Before the Affordable Care Act, Joseph Maldonado, a 37-year-old Vancouver resident who works full time at a Shell gas station, was uninsured. On Tuesday, Maldonado attended a town hall meeting hosted by Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to ask a question echoed by many: Will he get the same level of care at a comparable cost if Obamacare is repealed?
“I pay $100 a month, and I get a subsidy to pay the rest of my premium,” Maldonado told Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, in her packed town hall meeting. “The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 and over six years, since then, I still don’t know what the Republican plan for replacement is. If you could please give me specifics — please give me specifics of what the actual plan is Republicans want to put into place?”
The GOP-controlled Congress appears to be moving quickly toward repealing President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law. And Herrera Beutler’s town hall was dominated by talk of the Affordable Care Act, at times turning raucous with people interrupting and shouting over the congresswoman.
Herrera Beutler maintained that for some people the Affordable Care Act has limited access to care and burdened them with high costs. Obamacare, she said, did not drive down health care costs.
“We didn’t drive down costs at all. In fact, we’re limiting it because we have narrower networks and fewer providers, which means there is zero competition,” Herrera Beutler said. Later, she added, “Here’s the thing, I want everyone to have the access you’re at,” she told Maldonado. “Right now, they don’t. Right now, their costs are going up, they can afford less, and their deductibles are up to $6,000.”
Herrera Beutler said a health care savings account, where federal subsidies are put into an account and given back to people in the form of a tax credit to help them purchase health insurance, should be part of the overhaul. She also suggested opening up the ability to purchase health insurance across state lines to increase competition and drive down prices. She’s championed the idea of bringing back high-risk pools funded by a tax on insurance companies, giving the higher-risk population access to health care plans that aren’t state-run or welfare plans. Some people are being put on Medicaid, which she said is a safety net, not health insurance.
“When we treat Medicaid, which is essentially welfare, when we treat it like health insurance, it’s going to break the safety net for people who need it, and it’s going to limit access to health care,” Herrera Beutler said.
Herrera Beutler told Maldonado she hopes replacing the act will ensure others have stories similar to Maldonado’s to share.
“My goal is to make sure you have access. My goal is for you is we transition you and you’re not left with less,” she said.
Later, Maldonado said Herrera Beutler’s answer didn’t assuage his fears. He makes $20,000 a year working full time and is concerned about what will happen if he’s without insurance.
“I don’t think she gave me an adequate response,” he said. “She basically said she’s not sure” whether he’ll have the same access to care.
After addressing him, Herrera Beutler said, “OK, that’s my answer. Take it or leave it.”
To which the outspoken crew within the town hall shouted back, “Leave it.”
Carolyn Crain, another audience member and local Republican activist, said her insurance costs have skyrocketed and her deductible is now $10,000.
“Which is pretty much catastrophic insurance,” she said, adding she’s also lost her doctors.
“So, I didn’t get what you got out of that deal,” she said to Maldonado.
Zubaida Ula, 39, who lives in La Center, commended the congresswoman for hosting the town hall.
“It must be hard, I can’t imagine,” she said.
She also thanked her for urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to ensure there was a replacement plan ready to go before leaving millions of Americans without insurance. But then she asked why she joined her GOP colleagues in voting for a budget that paves the way for gutting Obamacare when there is no replacement plan.
Herrera Beutler said the House is working on a strategy, and she’s urging Ryan to ensure that the process is done in a transparent, bipartisan fashion.
Later, she added, “Folks, this shouldn’t be news I want to replace the Affordable Care Act. … One of the biggest promises I made was I’m going to fight to replace it with something better. This isn’t a change of heart. This is a promise to fight.”
Herrera Beutler touched on other topics briefly throughout the more than hourlong town hall meeting, from her thoughts on Russia (not a friend), what to do about immigration (secure our borders), and her efforts to help veterans.
But overall, the conversation centered around the future of the nation’s federal health care system. Although the congresswoman didn’t escape the town hall without a Trump-related question.
Cindy Haverkate introduced herself as a lifelong Democrat and told Herrera Beutler there aren’t many policy issues the two agree on. But, she said, she has found the congresswoman to be a “decent, family-oriented person with values” she can understand and respect. But when it comes to President-elect Donald Trump, she said she’s horrified by his actions and comments and urged Herrera Beutler to stand up to him and call a lie a lie and hatred hatred and prejudice prejudice.
“I know this is a tall request, but you’re my voice in Washington, D.C.,” she said.
Herrera Beutler, who said she did not vote for Trump, joked she would rather wade into the weeds of health care policy than field the Trump question.
But she answered that her strategy working with Trump will be similar to her tactic of working with Obama.
“When he does things that benefit the people I serve, I’m going to work with him on it,” she said.