updated 9/3/2009 5:40:45 PM ET 2009-09-03T21:40:45

California authorities say a clash between opponents and supporters of health care reform ended with one man biting off another man's finger.

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Ventura County Sheriff's Capt. Frank O'Hanlon says about 100 people demonstrating in favor of health care reforms rallied Wednesday night on a street corner. One protester walked across the street to confront about 25 counter-demonstrators.

O'Hanlon says the man got into an argument and fist fight, during which he bit off the left pinky of a 65-year-old man who opposed health care reform.

Unlike all other wealthy nations, the United States lacks universal health care. Most health insurance is obtained through employers, and almost 50 million of the 300 million Americans are without it.

Barack Obama came to the presidency in January with almost unprecedented bipartisan popularity and strong backing for plan to make health care accessible to all Americans. But opposition has grown because of conservative attacks leading to increasingly raucus protests in recent weeks.

A hospital spokeswoman says the top joint of the man's pinky was bitten off, including the entire fingernail. It was not reattached.

She says he had Medicare, a government-run insurance for the elderly.

O'Hanlon says the attacker fled but authorities have a good description.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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