In light of the proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., turned his attention to the people for input Saturday.
More than 500 people — many of them constituents of the 14th Congressional District, encompassing Pittsburgh and some its suburbs — gathered at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland for Doyle’s town hall meeting.
While a few other topics — from President Donald Trump’s tax returns to his newly proposed, deep-cutting budget — came up, most of the participants wanted to talk about one thing: the American Health Care Act.
The bill, up for vote this Thursday, is the Republican Party’s proposal to amend — but not replace — the ACA, also known as Obamacare. The bill would eliminate the ACA’s mandate that every American buy health insurance, as well as replace insurance subsidies with tax credits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cause 24 million people to lose insurance by 2024, while also cutting the federal budget deficit by $337 billion by 2026.
During the Obama Administration, Doyle voted in favor of the ACA, and during his talk Saturday, he seemed optimistic that the Republican’s alternative could be defeated.
“There is a 50-50 chance of defeating this bill,” Doyle said. “I know a lot of nervous Republicans.”
That didn’t stem the flow of concerned citizens who shared stories during the open floor portion of the town hall meeting of how the ACA changed their lives. Before they could say their piece however, four speakers described their own experiences with — and support for — the ACA.
Ali Shapiro, a local small business owner and cancer survivor, who bought insurance in an ACA exchange, was one of those speakers. Referring to the AHCA, Shapiro predicted catastrophe. She said the bill would raise prices for small business owners buying insurance for their employees while cutting taxes for corporations.
“This is a death to small business and innovation,” Shapiro said.
As a cancer survivor who was classified with having a pre-existing condition, Shapiro claimed that insurance brokers instructed her to leave cancer off of her paperwork, and she credits the ACA for helping her and her husband buy affordable insurance. The AHCA, however, will not change the new regulations that prevent Americans from buying insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
Shapiro was joined by another ACA marketplace buyer, an AARP representative, and Teresa D. Miller, insurance commissioner for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
According to Miller’s presentation, Pennsylvania had an uninsured rate of 10.2 percent before the ACA and is now at 6.4 percent, an all-time state low. About 124,000 people have received care through the expansion for opioid and other substance use disorders. Under the AHCA, elderly could be charged up to five times more than younger purchasers of health care. The most prominent change will be a $2.1 billion shift in cost that will be passed from the federal government to the Pennsylvania state government.
Doyle contrasted the two plans, citing that Medicaid will receive $880 billion in cuts to fund the proposed new system. The current system of payment for the ACA is $600 billion over the next 10 years from pharmaceutical corporations, medical devices corporations, tanning salons and CEOs that make more than $500,000 a year.
Doyle pointed out that 43 percent of Pennsylvania Medicaid recipients are children, making these cuts unjustifiable. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children account for 19 percent of Medicaid spending.
Doyle co-sponsors one solution: HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. The bill, which currently sits in committee in the House, would set up a single-payer health care system in the United States to go alongside the ACA.
The bill would also expand Medicare to every U.S. citizen, providing free health care — including primary, mental, dental and emergency coverage. For funding, it would increase taxes on high-income individuals.
Bob Bonner, 69, was one of a half dozen people at the town hall wearing yellow placards over their chests, bearing the words “Single-Payer Health Care” with “HR 676” underneath.
While Doyle is a co-sponsor of the bill, Bonner thought the congressman’s tacit support should become active advocacy.
“We need more people speaking out. We need more champions of single-payer health care,” Bonner said.
Samuel Ressin, a first-year undeclared student, attended the town hall to learn more about what was going on with the new health care bill — but came to the meeting with his own preconceived opinions.
“If AHCA is passed, millions will lose their insurance and likely die. Mike Doyle gets this, and that’s why I support him,” he said.
Ressin did critique the ACA, saying it doesn’t do enough to slow rising premiums. A health insurance premium is a monthly fee paid to an insurance company or health plan to provide health coverage.
Sid Dash, a senior biology major, felt the intersection of his interests in health care and politics warranted a visit to the town hall meeting. While he identifies as a conservative, he’s skeptical when looking at the predicted losses in individual coverage from the GOP bill.
Dash said he’d like to see the bill receive some amendments before the upcoming vote to ensure fewer people lose coverage from the act.
“At this point, I’m not the biggest fan of the bill they’re looking at,” Dash said.
For some of the attendees, Dash’s was an understatement. One woman broke into tears while telling Doyle the story of her two hemophiliac sons who need access to expensive injections in order to help their blood clot. She shared her fear that the AHCA would take away her insurance coverage, and said to Doyle that she didn’t “want to start over with nothing.” Doyle offered a simple response to the crowd’s applause.
“We’ll fight for you,” he said.
Stephen Caruso contributed reporting.