Two doctors to debate 'public option'

In what is promised to be a more civil gathering than the manic town hall meetings of August, two Wichita doctors will debate the "public option" for national health care at a meeting Thursday of a local Republican group.

Against a national backdrop of contentious meetings on the subject, organizers are planning the doctors' debate to be "an exchange of ideas and information in an organized, respectful, and open manner."

Richard Skibba, a gastroenterology specialist, will speak in favor of the public option.

Donald Bebak, an anesthesiologist, will speak in opposition to it.

The meeting will be held in the first-floor jury room of the Sedgwick County Courthouse, 525 N. Main, Wichita.

A pop and pizza social will start the gathering at 6:30 p.m. with the program to follow from 7 to 9 p.m.

The public option would allow people to buy in to a government-administered medical plan and is one of the most controversial aspects of health-reform legislation currently pending before Congress.

President Obama and most congressional Democrats support a public option, saying it would offer needed competition to private insurance plans and lower costs for consumers.

Most Republican lawmakers and some conservative Democrats oppose it, saying that it would create unfair competition and drive private-sector insurance from the market, creating a de facto system of socialized medicine.

On Tuesday, supporters of the public option failed in attempts to add the public option to a bill before the Senate Finance Committee. They vowed to try again when the bill advances to the Senate floor.

Nationally, the health-care debate led to some highly volatile town hall meetings during Congress' August recess.

Opponents of government health care lashed out at and shouted down representatives. Some meetings were marred by heated arguments and even scuffles among audience members.

Thursday's debate is being sponsored by the Kansas Republican Assembly and the group's leader, Mark Gietzen, said he expects it to be civil.

Although the public will be allowed to ask questions, "this is not a town-hall meeting," Gietzen said.

"This is not a place to come with signs, this is a place to come and learn something," he said.

"We want people to come who want to hear the facts and listen to both sides. It's not going to be a wild, raucous time and I will do anything I can to keep it from becoming that."

Gietzen said several state lawmakers and candidates have told him they plan to be there.

They will also have a chance to ask questions and make brief statements, he said.

For more information, call 316-522-8866.