Rep. Jerry Lewis (R, CA-41) spoke to a packed house Wednesday night during a town hall meeting discussing health care reform.

"If you wonder what that is," said Lewis, holding up a stack of paper with hot pink Post-It Notes protruding from the pages, "That's the bill. And just a few of the questions I have."

"Vote no!" called out a man seated in the audience. Those that spoke Wednesday, with the exception of a trio of hecklers in the back of the theater, were overwhelmingly against the proposed healthcare bills.

Victor Valley College's 493-seat performing arts theater was filled to capacity Wednesday evening, and approximately 75 people who couldn't get in listened in the foyer outside.

Several times over the course of the evening, Lewis used his 1,017-page copy of the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 bill (H.R. 3200) as prop.

"All of these markings are mine," said Lewis, referring to the pink bookmarks. "But I must say, it's tough to stay awake."

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, Lewis referred several times to analyses done by the Lewin Group, a subsidiary of United Healthcare Group.

"America has a cross-section of healthcare programs available that is the envy of much of the world," said Lewis, a former insurance salesman. "Americans are living longer, healthier lives, and as a result of that, they want to keep what they have and they don't want to get a bureaucrat getting in between them and their doctor."

But the congressman did run down problems he sees with the current healthcare system:

"There's absolutely no reason that we cannot underwrite, and with relatively added cost, people with pre-existing conditions," he said. "If you change your job, or move from one state to another, you don't want to give up what you've got, just because you change jobs."

And finally, "it's not mentioned in this bill at all [but] we must do something about the impact that trial lawyers are having upon healthcare," said Lewis, to loud applause. "One way or another, we've got to get the lawyers out of the way."

He also attempted to allay some of the fears of his constituents: The government will not be taking money directly out of taxpayers' bank accounts, he said, nor will the bill take guns away from anyone as a provision of care.

"The one thing that we do know is that we want to have more and better care for all Americans," Lewis said, wrapping up his remarks, "Especially, from my perspective, those of us who have gray hair."

The congressman fielded questions from more than a dozen constituents. The questions had been submitted ahead of time by VVC students and taken from Victor Valley residents by various Victor Valley chambers of commerce.

"If you want to solve part of the problems, those that can afford their own medical care, leave them alone," Hesperian Howard Schuler told Lewis. "Those who want a single-payor system, go to Canada."

"There are an amazing number of people in Canada who have serious health problems that have to come here" for healthcare, said Lewis. (According to the congressman, he pays 40 percent of the insurance costs of his Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plan.)

"Why is it so bad to have a centralized plan for those who need it and a private plan for those who want it?" asked VVC alumnus Vincent Mirren. "Lots of times people say government is corrupt, but so is business."

"We had the majority for 12 years, and I can't tell you that we did a heck of a lot better," said Lewis, who several times over the course of the evening stressed that the healthcare issue transcends the partisan Republican/Democrat divide. "This is your government, and if you will address yourself to it significantly, over a period of time, you will have an impact, one step at a time."

"How are you going to vote?" asked Maxwell Briton of Apple Valley. "Because I'm unclear on that."

"I don't know how you're unclear on that," Lewis replied. "This bill, in its present form, I would vote no."

"What scares me is you say 'in its present form.' I don't want any form," Briton pressed. "I want to feel represented, congressman."

"I'm not going to vote for nationalizing healthcare in this country, period," said Lewis.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.