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Republican Lawmaker Key to Health Bill's Passage Lambasted at Town Hall
Adam Gabbatt and Lauren Gambino, Guardian UK
Excerpt: "Tom MacArthur, the New Jersey congressman who has been celebrated in conservative circles for helping pass the Republican healthcare bill, came back down to earth with a bang on Wednesday night when he was booed, heckled and generally chastised during a nearly five-hour town hall meeting."
A constituent asks a question of Tom MacArthur at the tumultuous town hall. (photo: Dominick
Constituents heckle and boo Tom MacArthur, calling him a ‘killer’ as 500 people gather for New Jersey event: ‘I don’t think I’ll vote for him again’
om MacArthur, the New Jersey congressman who has been celebrated in conservative circles for helping pass the Republican healthcare bill, came back down to earth with a bang on Wednesday night when he was booed, heckled and generally chastised during a nearly five-hour town hall meeting.
In Willingboro, hundreds showed up to lambast MacArthur, most fuelled by their congressman’s intervention to revive the ailing American Health Care Act (AHCA).
MacArthur was branded a “weasel”, a “killer” and an “idiot” by constituents angry at his amendment to the bill, which would allow states to opt out of rules that protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from being charged more for healthcare coverage. This stipulation proved enough to satisfy the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the bill – which would probably see millions of Americans lose their healthcare coverage – passed the House on 4 May.
The majority of Republicans who voted for the bill are not holding public events this week, despite being on recess. Those who have dared face voters have been pilloried. Aware of this, MacArthur kicked off his town hall at 6.30pm with a promise to respond to every single question, for “as long as it goes”. He was still being quizzed by angry residents at 11.20pm.
More than 500 people had gathered outside the Kennedy Center in Willingboro, just across the Delaware river from Philadelphia. It was a lively and loud scene, a number of voters chanting, waving signs and generally causing a ruckus.
“Our health matters more than Tom’s net worth,” one banner read. A sign showed a picture of MacArthur with “I took your healthcare” written on his forehead. Another described MacArthur, a former insurance executive who was elected in 2014, as “MacWeasel”.
Claudia Storicks, a former nurse who has been on disability for the past two years, had travelled from Pemberton, New Jersey. She has diabetes and charcot foot – a weakening of the bones caused by nerve damage – and was using an electric scooter. She is insured under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration legislation the AHCA seeks to replace.
“It was the only insurance that I could afford,” she said. “I’ve been able to afford my medication and my doctor’s visits because I’m on the ACA. Otherwise I probably would have lost my house and my foot.”
Storicks voted for MacArthur in 2016 – “he’s a businessman and I thought he had a good sense about taxes,” she said – but now described herself as “very angry” at the prospect of the ACA being repealed.
“That would mean that my diabetes would get out of control, my foot would probably get worse, and I’d probably end up in hospital and losing my house.”
Medford, New Jersey, resident Jay Wilder, 72, was first in line. He arrived six hours early. “I’m really worried about pre-existing conditions because I dealt with it when I was going from my job before I had Medicare,” he said.
Wilder had had a heart attack and said he couldn’t afford healthcare. “I just lived without healthcare, hoping that nothing would happen. It was very difficult because when you’re 64 years old you start having health issues.”
The anger outside the venue set the tone for the event itself. MacArthur walked out to Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars, and to a similarly tepid round of applause from the 250 people who had made it inside. The congressman smiled and offered his hand to a man wearing a green shirt, sitting in the front row. The man kept his arms folded and thrust his head away.
The four hours and 50 minutes that followed were no less hostile. MacArthur had asked constituents not to boo him but that proved to be in vain. People repeatedly told him he had “blood” on his hands.
A man who had received a kidney transplant feared what would happen to people like him under the AHCA. A resident whose wife had recovered from breast cancer was concerned that she would “always have a pre-existing condition” and did not want that to determine which state she lived in.
A woman had brought her two young children, one of whom had learning difficulties, and objected to them potentially being placed in a “high-risk pool” – an aspect of MacArthur’s amendment designed to assist people with pre-existing conditions, but which could lead to higher health insurance costs.
MacArthur’s responses – that only 7% of Americans were in the individual market, that people would not lose their insurance (the Congressional Budget Office, in its assessment of an earlier version of the bill,said 24 million would probably do so), and that “there are loads of other people who don’t agree with you” – did not placate the crowd.
Nor did his response to repeated chants calling for single-payer healthcare.
“Government bureaucrats can be very dangerous when they have power” to make decisions on people’s health, MacArthur said, prompting one woman to tell the congressman she would prefer that scenario than “someone in an office” of an insurance company making the same decisions.
‘Something was awoke in me’
Just 14 of the 217 Republicans who voted in favor of the AHCA are holding public events this week. Those who have ventured out have not been warmly received.
On Monday, Rod Blum of Iowa walked out of an interview with a local television station and was then roundly booed at an event in Dubuque. On Tuesday, David Brat, a congressman from Virginia, was jeered and booed at a town hall in Midlothian, near Richmond.
Constituents waved red signs that said “shame” and “nope”, a gesture suggested by the progressive Indivisible organization, which aims to use Tea Party-esque, assertive tactics to oust Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. Charlene Thompson, a Brat constituent, said she cried when the House approved the AHCA.
“Something was awoke in me,” she said. “I just gave birth last summer. I fought long and hard to have that guy and to think that I would be considered a pre-existing is just awful.”
In New Jersey on Wednesday, people began to quietly leave the MacArthur town hall at about 9.30pm. But at least 25 stayed until the bitter end. Storicks, who sat patiently in her scooter for hours, was one of the last people to speak.
She told the congressman about how she relied on the ACA for medication related to her illnesses. Storicks said she would suffer under the Republican plan “because I was born with bad genes”.
MacArthur stuck to the answer he had given all night: that high-risk pools would actually protect people like Storicks, and that people would not have to pay more due to a pre-existing condition – claims which are heavily disputed by health experts.
Storicks was not convinced.
“I get he’s an insurance man and he’s coming at this from an insurance and business perspective and it’s all about profits and minimizing costs,” she said, “but I’m frustrated because I don’t think he’s really of a mind to change his opinions.
“But next year the public will have a chance to speak. And I don’t think I’m going to vote for him again.”http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/43514-republican-lawmaker-key-to-health-bills-passage-lambasted-at-town-hall