If comments voiced at public meetings on the subject Wednesday in Salt Lake City are any indication, the U.S. health-care reform debate isn't really about how to fix what's wrong with it but an all-out battle to preserve the American way of life.

And the most un-American part of all is the baloney that Congress is about to pass as reform what is really just thinly veiled socialized medicine, said several people attending town hall-type meetings Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Reform Washington-style hasn't been playing well at all in Peoria, and it is being given a less-than-warm welcome in Salt Lake City.

Some state lawmakers have made it a point to pronounce any reform plan Congress might approve this fall dead on arrival, and that what is known about it is tantamount to trying to stop a runaway semi-truck by stomping on the accelerator.

Reform is happening at the state level, where it should be, where changes can be incubated and tested and altered to fit a state's unique characteristics and needs, Utah House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said. Practical, real-world, market-driven steps are the way states need to go, he said, noting the new health-insurance exchange that was the featured guest at a lunch meeting hosted by the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

A quick fix from Washington only serves those who are trying to make good on campaign promises, he said. The approach isn't worthy of citizens with no access to insurance who are desperate for reform. "Congress does two things very well: nothing and over-react."

In so many words and at times in heated tones, attendees claimed that the proposals with the most chance of being approved in Congress only add to the alarming growth in the cost of care, don't really open access in any practical way and are more examples of government elbowing its way into the lives of citizens.

A Salt Lake small-business owner attending a special forum on health-care reform held by Sutherland Institute, which included a question-and-answer session with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the federal government foisting reform edicts on the states will not only make the mess bigger, but also that the whole thing strikes him as unconstitutional.

"The Constitution is to protect us, the people, from the government," he said. "And nowhere in it do I see that a small employer is responsible for paying for the health care of their employees."

"There is so much at stake here," Hatch said in response, "and there may well be constitutional questions here."

Hatch's comments came the day after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, his friend and co-author of the Hatch/Kennedy bill that created the successful Children's Health Insurance Program for kids in working poor families. Kennedy has been calling for immediate health-care reform since the Medicare insurance plan for the country's seniors was implemented in 1966.

Hatch said he admired Kennedy's ability to find common ground and compromise on such bipartisan issues, but that he finds neither in the reform proposals coming before Congress. "I'll be as bipartisan as I can be, but I can't endorse any plan that amounts to government taking over health care."

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com