Government-run health insurance is a “ponzi scheme,” former television newsman John Stossel told about 800 people today at a forum on health care.

“They locked Bernie Madoff up for running a ponzi scheme, but Congress walks free,” Stossel said at a forum in Little Rock sponsored by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. “There’s no way it can keep going this way.”

Eventually the government will create “something like death panels” to ration care, Stossel said.

“At some point they’re going to have to say, ‘No, you can’t have that. You can’t have this experimental drug.’ That’s what happens when other people pay for your needs,” he said.

Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips said the group organized three forums with Stossel today in Arkansas — the others were in Texarkana and Jonesboro — because “your state is literally ground zero in this debate on health care.”

“The … decision they (Arkansas’ mostly moderate House and Senate Democrats) have to make is this: Will they go along with their party and the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the majority leader, Harry Reid, and the president to pass government-run health care, or will they stand with the majority of citizens in Arkansas and say, ‘Thanks but no thanks to government-run health care,’” Phillips said.

Also today, House Democrats unveiled a bill that includes a public health insurance option, and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln declined to rule out joining a Republican filibuster against a Senate bill containing a public option.

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, leader of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats, said in an e-mail this afternoon he was “disappointed” to see that the new House bill includes a public option.

“I remain unconvinced that a government-run public option will do anything to reform the health insurance industry. I believe we should accomplish health insurance reform through legislation and regulation,” Ross said.

Ross said he remains hopeful that the bill will be modified into “something I can support.”

Of the others in Arkansas’ U.S. House delegation, Democrat Vic Snyder of Little Rock has said he supports health care reform with or without a public option, and Democrat Marion Berry of Gillett was noncommittal about the House bill unveiled today.

Republican John Boozman of Rogers said lawmakers can fix what’s broken with the nation’s health system “without introducing a massive government takeover.”

Last week, Reid, D-Nev., rolled out a Senate bill that includes a public option but lets states out of the program if they choose. Lincoln, who has said she opposes a public option, was asked today if she would support a Republican filibuster of the bill or would vote to send the measure to a floor vote.

“I’m going to wait until I see what the bill is,” Lincoln said in a morning conference call with Arkansas reporters. “I think that’s the most important thing I can do, is to make sure I’ve evaluated whatever it is that Majority Leader Harry Reid is going to bring to the floor vote.”

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said Wednesday he is inclined to send the bill to a vote on the Senate floor.

Stossel, formerly a reporter and co-anchor with ABC’s “20-20” newsmagazine and now preparing to debut a new program on Fox Business News, drew criticism for his appearances in Arkansas. Critics have said the appearances conflict with journalistic objectivity and support the view advanced by the Obama administration that what Fox does is not journalism.

Talking to reporters after the event in Little Rock, Stossel dismissed those criticisms.

“I’ve always had a point of view,” he said. “It only bothered my colleagues when it was a point of view that upset them.”

Stossel also said he is “one of the Fox commentary people. I’m not one of the straight news guys.”

The forum in Little Rock drew a largely supportive crowd, though a man in the audience heckled Phillips.

 

“Any time a government bureaucrat starts looking at making decisions or judgments on quality of life … I become very concerned about that,” Phillips said.

“What about corporations making decisions?” the heckler shouted.

Phillips later said states would be forced to increase Medicaid contributions to help pay for a revamping of the health care system. The heckler then yelled “You lie!” in an echo of words yelled last month by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during a speech by Obama.

The man was escorted from the room after his second outburst.

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