09/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Strong Turnout, No Shouting at Vermont Town Meetings on Health Care (VIDEO)

Hundreds of Vermonters -- overwhelmingly in favor of health care reform -- Saturday packed spirited but civil town meetings hosted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a public park in Arlington, Vermont and at a church in Rutland. Both sessions were a stark contrast to raucous town-hall-style meetings in other states that have been disrupted by angry, shouting hecklers.

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We have a situation that has to be dealt with not just because of the needs of individual people, but for the sake of our entire economy. We live in a nation in which 46 million people have no health insurance and even more are under-insured. Sixty million Americans do not have access to a doctor on a regular basis. And, according to the Institute of Medicine, some 18,000 Americans die every single year because they get to the doctor too late.

If we don't get a handle on soaring health care costs, whatever you are paying today or whatever your employer is paying today will likely be doubled in 10 years and millions of Americans will be paying 50 percent of their income on health care. That can't happen. The country cannot survive economically, and millions of Americans will not make it economically if we don't deal with this issue.

Sanders' first meeting drew about 600 people to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rutland, filling the pews inside and spilling over to folding chairs on the lawn outdoors. Another overflow crowd of about 500 jammed into a park pavilion in this town where Norman Rockwell lived and painted his iconic image of a traditional New England town meeting.

At both meetings, Sanders asked the audience for a show of hands if they favored the government making sure that every American has health insurance. Supporters of a public health care program like Medicare for all Americans clearly outnumbered opponents, but separate lines of Vermonters on both sides of the issue took turns asking the senator dozens of questions.