In a nod toward regional concerns, health care administrators from General Motors and Ford Motor Company argued at the forum that rising costs of health care had prevented the faltering companies from keeping up with foreign competitors.
The president did not attend, but the event kicked off with a recorded welcome from Mr. Obama, who stressed that ideas for reform should not only come from Washington. The event did have some Washington flavor, however. Granholm and Doyle were joined by Democratic congressmen John Dingell and John Conyers, Jr. and White House Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes.
"Our economic house is on fire, and one of those reasons is the costs of the health care system," Barnes said in her introductory remarks.
Doyle, Granholm, and Barnes took turns moderating the discussion and inviting attendees to share their own stories and concerns. Though the personal stories of health care crisis differed, the guests in the room uniformly supported broad and sweeping reform focused on expanding access to the uninsured, improving medical records and emphasizing preventative care.
The event's moderators underscored what the Obama administration has been arguing in recent weeks – that health care reform is part and parcel of the country's economic recovery.
"In recognizing that we have to get across the finish line, making that economic argument is part of that," said Granholm.
While opening the forum, Barnes hailed the event as an opportunity for regular citizens to "speak truth to power." They took her up on the offer. Their calls for action were both passionate and strident.
"People are dying and they are suffering," said Sister Mary Ellen Howard, who runs a clinic at Detroit's Most Holy Trinity Church. "I walked through our waiting room before coming here where 50 uninsured people were waiting for care. I came here on their behalf. It's unconscionable, its criminal, and we have got to do something."
Regional forums also will be held in California, Iowa, North Carolina and Vermont.