BILL GREENE/GLOBE STAFF
Julia Hall poses her question to President Obama in Portsmouth, N.H.
A girl from Malden asked President Obama a question at Tuesday's town hall meeting in New Hampshire about the signs outside "saying mean things" about his health care proposal.
Eleven-year-old Julia Hall asked: "How do kids know what is true, and why do people want a new system that can -- that help more of us?''
The question opened the door for the president to respond to what he called an "underlying fear'' among the public "that people somehow won't get the care they need.''
The girl later told the Globe that picking the president's brain was "incredible."
"It was like a once in a lifetime experience," she said.
Julia's mother was an early Obama supporter and donor in Massachusetts during the presidential election, so she had previously met First Lady Michelle Obama, the Obama daughters Sasha and Malia, and Vice President Joe Biden.
"This was my first time meeting Barack Obama, and he's a very nice man," Julia said. "I'm glad I voted for him."
She said Obama won a mock presidential election at the Cheverus School in 2008. And on Tuesday, he approached her after the town meeting.
"He said 'great question,'" Julia said. "I shook his hand and got his picture."
Kathleen Manning Hall, Julia's mother, was shocked when her daughter said she wanted to ask a question. They wrote it down beforehand, and Julia didn't miss a beat when Obama called on her.
"It was surreal," said Manning Hall, a coordinator of Massachusetts Women for Obama during the election.
She said Julia was moved by a woman's testimonial on Tuesday before the president spoke. The woman described her ordeal battling liver disease without health insurance.
"Julia talked about it the whole way home," said Manning Hall, adding that they often discuss politics. "We talk a lot about human rights and having compassion for people."
Julia also enjoys soccer and playing guitar, especially songs by Taylor Swift, her favorite artist.
"She entertained my whole family on Christmas Day," Manning Hall said. "She's a wonderful child. She's a very sensitive, smart girl and I'm hoping she becomes more interested in politics and helping people."
She may get her wish. Julia said she'd like to run for office someday, maybe even for president.
"It would be awesome if I could work in politics," she said.
Responding to Julia -- an honors student entering grade 6 at the Cheverus School -- Obama said:
"Well . . . I've seen some of those signs,'' prompting laughter. "Let me just be specific about some things that I've been hearing lately that we just need to dispose of here. The rumor that's been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for "death panels" that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we've decided that we don't -- it's too expensive to let her live anymore. And there are various -- there are some variations on this theme.''
According to a White House transcript, Obama continued:
"It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they're ready, on their own terms. It wasn't forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.''
"The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican -- then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia -- who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people's options. And somehow it's gotten spun into this idea of "death panels." I am not in favor of that. So just I want to -- (applause.) I want to clear the air here.''
"Now, in fairness, the underlying argument I think has to be addressed, and that is people's concern that if we are reforming the health care system to make it more efficient, which I think we have to do, the concern is that somehow that will mean rationing of care, right? -- that somehow some government bureaucrat out there will be saying, well, you can't have this test or you can't have this procedure because some bean-counter decides that this is not a good way to use our health care dollars. And this is a legitimate concern, so I just want to address this.''
"We do think that systems like Medicare are very inefficient right now, but it has nothing to do at the moment with issues of benefits. The inefficiencies all come from things like paying $177 billion to insurance companies in subsidies for something called Medicare Advantage that is not competitively bid, so insurance companies basically get a $177 billion of taxpayer money to provide services that Medicare already provides. And it's no better -- it doesn't result in better health care for seniors. It is a giveaway of $177 billion.
"Now, think about what we could do with $177 billion over 10 years. I don't think that's a good use of money. I would rather spend that money on making sure that Lori can have coverage, making sure that people who don't have health insurance get some subsidies, than I would want to be subsidizing insurance companies.
"Another way of putting this is right now insurance companies are rationing care. They are basically telling you what's covered and what's not. They're telling you: We'll cover this drug, but we won't cover that drug; you can have this procedure, or, you can't have that procedure. So why is it that people would prefer having insurance companies make those decisions, rather than medical experts and doctors figuring out what are good deals for care and providing that information to you as a consumer and your doctor so you can make the decisions?
"So I just want to be very clear about this. I recognize there is an underlying fear here that people somehow won't get the care they need. You will have not only the care you need, but also the care that right now is being denied to you -- only if we get health care reform. That's what we're fighting for.''
Julia Hall meets the President after the town hall.