Residents voice concerns on health care reform

by Freddy Monares, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

In response to Congress’ recent debate over health care reform, a few more than 20 people rallied outside of Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines’ Bozeman office Friday to urge the senator to vote no on the proposal.

Jeannie Brown, a community organizer for Center for Community Change, headed the demonstration. She said people had been filing in and out of the senator’s office to voice their concerns with the house-version of the American Health Care Act.

“This bill is mean and it is horrible, and it is going to have devastating impacts on individuals,” Brown said.

The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan analyst for the U.S. Congress, analyzed the House version of the AHCA, also known as Trumpcare. It estimated 51 million people under age 65 would be uninsured by 2026 under the AHCA, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law. The AHCA is the Republicans’ proposed replacement for the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

The report also estimated the version passed by the House would reduce the cumulative federal deficit by $119 billion over the next 10 years. The report said that the largest savings would come from reductions in Medicaid.

Medicaid is a state-administered program that provides health coverage to eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. States and the federal government fund the program jointly.

The Montana Health Care Foundation commissioned an independent analysis of the House version of the AHCA. The analysis said 70,000 Montanans would lose coverage under Medicaid expansion by 2026.

The foundation outlined the key findings in a release Wednesday.

“These cuts would hurt Montana’s most vulnerable residents, including children, seniors, and people with disabilities,” said foundation CEO Dr. Aaron Wernham. “Furthermore, they would weaken the state’s health care system, threaten the viability of our rural hospitals, and put our state’s balanced budget at risk.”

At the rally Friday, demonstrators said they were counting on Daines to listen to their stories, act with moral leadership and vote no on any bill that would hurt Montanans. The demonstrators also said not enough senators were involved in the construction of the bill, referring to reports that 13 Republican senators were meeting behind closed doors.

Jim Vernon of Livingston said the overhaul of the health care system in the country is part of a bigger picture. He called the reformation of health care a showdown on democracy.

“I think that our legislation should come from the bottom up, and so much of it lately has come from the top down,” Vernon said.

Vernon said he was insured through Medicare, but he has a sister that is covered under Medicaid. He said it’s a right for Americans to have a healthy life.

JoAnne Troxel, a retired teacher from Bozeman, said health care should be a human right and not a privilege.

“People don’t ask for sickness,” Troxel said. “We are all susceptible.”

Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has been a contentious issue since it was enacted in 2010.

In an interview on Tuesday with the Chronicle, Daines said he is engaged in the process on the Senate-drafted version of the AHCA. He said there’s nothing affordable about the nation’s current health care program.

“We have a Medicaid program that is on an unsustainable path, and I’m very concerned that Medicaid expansion is going to have approximately a $1 trillion expense over the next 10 years,” Daines said.

Since Obamacare was enacted, 2016 was the first year insurers were reporting profitability on the exchange, according to Standards and Poor Global ratings report. Adding administrative costs for fundraising still put the insurers at reporting a loss.

The recent Congressional Budget Office report estimated that there could be a sufficient demand for insurance by enough people for the market to be stable in most areas.

Daines said the committee would take a wary look at the budget office reports, and that the Medicaid market is not affordable for Montanans.

“We need to be absolutely certain we protect those whom Medicaid was originally intended to protect, and those are some of the most vulnerable in our society,” Daines said.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said Wednesday that he’s aware that Obamacare is not perfect and feels Congress should be working to improve the current law. He said Medicaid is a success story under the law.

“We ought to not be cutting Medicaid and blocking Medicaid and making sure that Medicaid is not available out there for folks who work hard – and maybe multiple jobs – and still have the money to pay for health care,” Tester said.

Tester said the best way to craft a health care bill is with cooperation. Lawmakers allege they are being left out of the health care conversation.

“We need to get as much input as we can to try and get it right from the get-go because it’s not going to go away unless we do it right,” Tester said.

Both senators agree that health care needs to be affordable.

Daines said the Senate is getting close to seeing legislative text of the bill. When the bill comes to the floor, the budget office will produce updated estimates based on the legislative text.

Tester said he expects the full Senate to see the version as early as June 26.

Rallies have been held at Tester’s office as well. The latest rally Brown organized at his office was in April.

“Both senators need to know how people are going to be impacted,” Brown said. “I highly encourage everybody to talk to both senators.”