On Saturday March 11, 2017, Congressman Neal held a Town Hall, to both hear what his constituents had to say and also to give us the facts. He said that the process of developing the proposed Trumpcare legislation has been very rushed. The Affordable Care Act was developed over many months, with countless hours of hearings, dozens of proposed amendments, and attempts to reach across the aisle. The current proposed legislation was approved on purely partisan lines by the House Ways and Means Committee, of which Neal is the ranking minority member, after a marathon session concluding at 4:00 AM. During this session, Neal realized that this is basically a tax reduction bill, not a “fix” for health care. The bill contains an estimated $600 billion in tax cuts.
Neal acknowledged that the ACA does need revision. Physicians are not properly paid. And the costs to small business owners are so high that they stifle entrepreneurship. But the current plan has greatly reduced the rate of increase of health care costs. 22 million Americans have gained insurance, leaving only 9 million uninsured. In Massachusetts, 100% of children are insured and 97% of adults. Neal pointed out that life expectancies have risen since Medicaid and Medicare became available. Unfortunately, half of bankruptcies in the US are still healthcare related.
The Republican proposal would neither expand access or manage costs. Currently Medicaid costs for long term care, for example are paid 50% through Medicaid. The proposal would place a state cap on Medicaid payments, leaving out some of the most vulnerable people. The tax credit plan in the bill would not be adequate to pay for most people’s insurance. Half of hospital revenue now comes from Medicaid and Medicare, so reducing these would harm a vital area of employment in our area. The insurance mandate is the glue that holds the ACA together, but the mandate would be weakened in the current bill. The bill contains an “age tax” as it would permit older adults to be charged not just 3 times as much as young people, but 5 or more times as much. Copays would go up for seniors.
Neal would like to see the cap for Medicare premiums raised beyond $118,000. He would like to get healthy people into the system earlier, so that preventive care is available to them reducing costs for care when they do become ill. He would like to see popular programs such as keeping young people on their parents’ insurance to age 26, women’s health care, and care for pre-existing conditions preserved.
The Congressman was asked by several people how we got into this situation and what we can do about it. He pointed out that 1/3 of House Democrats represent New York, Massachusetts, and California. Democrats need to reach out to working people, who have less power due to the loss of union influence. We need to work harder on aspirational programs, such as community colleges. In New England there are many high-skill jobs which are not being filled. He urged us to work as he does–finding a point of agreement with the other side, using references that matter to them (such as Wall Street Journal instead of New York Times), making reference to historical precedence. He believes that carefully written letters to Senators or Representatives of other districts do have an impact. He encouraged us to work in “purple” areas nearby, such as New Hampshire. Find a path for moving forward, rather than just stating your position loudly. And get organized, work with your town committees. A strong apparatus gives meaning to the elections between elections. We in turn encouraged Rep. Neal to continue to keep us informed about what he is doing and to post fact we need to know, as networks of activists are getting stronger all the time and are eager to share what he has to say.
About 150 people attended, including several from RUWMI. The town hall continued until everyone who wished to ask a question had done so. People were very appreciative of the opportunity to dialogue with Congressman Neal, and grateful for the hard work he is doing for us in Washington.
You can watch a video of the Town Hall here on MassLive’s Facebook Page. Were you in attendance or do you have additional questions? Leave your comments below.