Obama Sails Through Montana Town Hall

5242757Updated 4:54 p.m. ET

President Obama told a town hall audience in Montana on Friday that health care reform is essential to fix a system in which people are denied coverage because of preexisting conditions or dropped from insurance policies because they have become sick.

"This is not about politics," he told an audience of approximately 1,300 people at a hanger in the town of Belgrade. "This is about helping the American people."

Ticking off examples of people who saw their coverage canceled as they faced life-threatening issues, Mr. Obama asked his audience to "remember one thing: There, but for the grace of God, go I."

He targeted insurance companies for such practices throughout and said special interests "use their influence, they run their ads and their political allies try to scare the heck out of everybody."

Mr. Obama remarks repeatedly drew applause from a largely supportive audience Friday afternoon, and most of the questions came from Americans who appeared to back his efforts.

But he was eager for critical questions, at one point directly requesting such a question. Two were asked, including one from a self-professed member of the National Rifle Association, who told Mr. Obama he "can't tell us how you're going to pay for this."

"The only way that you're going to get that money is to raise our taxes," said Randy Rathie. "You said you wouldn't." (watch at left)

"We keep getting the bull," he added. "That's all we get is bull."

"Look, you are absolutely right that I can't cover another 46 million people for free," Mr. Obama responded. "You're right. I can't do that. So we're going to have to find some resources."

The president said two-thirds of the money to pay for reform could come from things like eliminating subsidies to insurance companies, and the other third – about $30 billion – from taxing those making over $250,000 per year.
Mr. Obama vowed not to pay for reform "on the backs of the middle class."

CBS News' Robert Hendin caught up with Rathie after the event. He said he was somewhat satisfied with the president answer, though he needs to hear more.

"We're Montanans, we're no bull people," said Rathie. "Just tell me where you're going to get the money."

Later, an insurance salesman charged that the president was trying to "vilify" insurance companies. The president said he did not want to do so, adding that some insurance companies had been constructive. But others, he said, were spending money to stop his efforts.

Mr. Obama stepped onstage Friday afternoon just as a hailstorm stopped pounding the metallic roof of the hangar where the town hall was held. After his opening statement, the president, who did not wear a tie, took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves to take questions.

He lauded the town hall meetings that have been going on around the country, many of which have attracted Americans angry about health care reform efforts.

"Everywhere across the country you're seeing people who are coming together and having a civil, honest, often difficult conversation about how we can improve the system," he said. "That's how democracy's supposed to work."

"T.V. loves a ruckus," he added in reference to images and news reports featuring angry protesters. "What you haven't seen on T.V. and what makes me proud are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country."

Most od the tickets to the event were distrubuted on a first-come, first-served basis at the City Halls in Belgrade and nearby Bozeman.