By JEN CARDINES
As it currently sits in the hands of the U.S. Senate, the new health care bill passed by House Republicans dominated much of the discussion between U.S. Representative John Larson (D-1st District) and local residents during a recent public forum.
Held at Derynoski Elementary School in Southington, the forum marked the 16th one this year for Larson, who voted against the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
The bill, which Larson said was about tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, passed the House by a vote of 217-213, and still faces uncertainty in the Senate.
“It’s really a tax bill, and it demonstrates the largest shift of taxation from the middle class to the wealthiest people in the country,” said Larson, noting how campaign pledges were made to repeal and replace ACA over the past seven years.
Under the proposed American Health Care Act, it is estimated that 24 million Americans will lose health insurance over 10 years, reported the Associated Press. The bill, which allows states to set important insurance rules, would form new tax credits for people based on age instead of income, and eliminate fines on Americans who do not buy policies, reported the AP. As Larson noted, the bill reduces $170 billion in Medicare funding, the proposed health care law also cuts federal payments to states for Medicaid reimbursements while eliminating federal payments to Planned Parenthood.
“What we saw was a bill that came to the floor that no one read,” said Larson. “It was introduced the night before, and only a few members of the Republican leadership took it up. They didn’t care—they just wanted to make sure they passed it.”
Although ACA has shown to need improvements, said Larson, its protection for individuals with pre-existing conditions was something that many Americans liked about Obamacare. But the loss of this protection is the part of AHCA that Larson called the most “painful,” as the bill reduces funding for pre-existing conditions by $130 billion.
“This was a very important piece of legislation, and the cost shift onto you, so that someone else can have a tax cut. I don’t think that’s what American people were planning on this—whether you voted for Donald Trump or not,” Larson told residents.
Looking ahead, Larson said the Senate is not likely to take up the House GOP’s healthcare bill. Recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell formed his own working group comprised of 13 Republicans who are planning to craft their own health care bill, and moderate senators from both parties began meeting last week to explore working together on bipartisan legislation, reported the AP.
Right now Republicans hold a 52-48 Senate majority, and would lose if three members of their party oppose their newly-crafted healthcare bill, as reported by the AP. If 50 Republican votes are secured, the bill would pass due to a tie break by Vice President Mike Pence, according to the AP.
If the Senate can get the votes they need for this bill, said Larson, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan will appoint a conference committee, which will include Democratic representation.
“They will have a lot to say about what is going to be the final product,” said Larson, who hopes to see a conference committee formed.
Among the changes that Larson and his party have outlined in their own drafted health care bill include lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to age 50, making health care more affordable for the middle class, and forming an advisory committee to look at the health care system as a whole.
“It’s not just the insurance companies—look at the healthcare system, the inefficiencies that exist in hospitals…with doctors…with medical devices…in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Larson, adding that the U.S. has the highest cost for health insurance worldwide.
After sharing his thoughts on healthcare, Social Security and the America’s Call to Improve Opportunities Now (ACTION) for National Service Act during the forum, Larson took questions from residents, many of whom gasped as news suddenly broke that President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
While the Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election still lingered in their minds, residents spoke out about health care throughout the discussion, including some who questioned Larson about pushing for universal health care.
For New Hartford resident and former business owner Lynn Taylor, access to healthcare would not be a reality if Obamacare did not exist.
“I have a pre-existing condition—I would be unable to get health care at this point if it wasn’t for Obamacare, so I think it’s a wonderful thing, and we can only make it better,” said Taylor, noting how paying $300,000 a year in health care costs killed her business.
Although he would support universal health care, said Larson, he needed to be realistic about the situation. Larson predicted that universal health care could happen steadily.
“I don’t think we can get there now. I’ve got to be realistic with people and tell them what I think we can get short-term,” said Larson, adding how he speaks out on a regular basis. “If you go to either extreme and say, ‘universal healthcare for everybody or total market for everybody,’ you’re not going to get agreement—either way. That’s how our country works.”
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com