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Group to take town hall meeting to Matheson

They plan protest to advocate health reform

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

While Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is not holding any town hall meetings on health-care reform, some people who seek reform are planning to take such a meeting to him.

They are organizing a protest they hope he will see en route to a fundraising dinner Monday.

"We're pretty disappointed he's not having any public events on this, so we've decided to bring the people to him," said Tara Sudweeks Willgues, one of the organizers of the event. "We're holding a rally because he needs to hear what his constituents think."

A loose-knit group of friends and reform supporters plan a "flash-mob protest" at 5:30 p.m. Monday on the corner of 38th South and Wasatch Boulevard, hoping Matheson will see them en route to a fundraiser he has scheduled that evening at Log Haven in Millcreek Canyon.

Their blogs urge supporters to "please bring a sheet to cover yourself so we can present a number of mock corpses." And if people know someone who died for lack of health care, "you can make a cardboard headstone or mark in large letters that person's name on your sheet."

The group has been passing out flyers about the protest throughout downtown Salt Lake City and spreading word via the Internet.

Willgues said she and Stephanie Bailey-Hatfield started organizing the group, calling itself Utah Health Care Reform, after a friend, Theron David Reed, died last month for what they see as lack of health-care coverage.

Reed was born with congenital heart disease, Willgues said. Even though he worked full time, he was unable to obtain health insurance because of his pre-existing condition. She said he went without his required medications for most of his adult life.

Last month, Reed had a heart attack and died while riding a TRAX train on his way to work, Willgues said.

"He was only 44 years old," she said. "His death put a fire under us for health-care reform."

Willgues said they are targeting Matheson more than Republicans in the Utah delegation because they think they might have more of a chance to convince him to support reform. Matheson voted against a Democratic bill in committee but was negotiating a possible compromise. Republican delegation members have strongly opposed Democratic proposals.

Matheson stopped holding traditional town hall meetings two years ago, saying it was expensive to send postcards to homes to advertise them and only a handful of people usually would attend. He has been holding telephone town hall meetings instead.

Alyson Heyrend, Matheson's press secretary, said he has spent much of the August recess meeting with groups on all sides of health-care reform, from doctors' groups to health-insurance executives, local elected officials and groups such as parents of autistic children.

"Meetings about health care have dominated his August schedule," Heyrend said.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com

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