PLATTSBURGH — U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik's support of the American Health Care Act took center stage during a TV community forum in Plattsburgh Monday night.
Stefanik (R-Willsboro) was at Mountain Lake PBS studios in Plattsburgh just four days after she voted in support of the legislation intended to replace the Affordable Care Act.
The bill, approved by a 217-213 vote, still requires Senate approval before it could be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
Numerous Republican senators have said they would not act on that bill but instead offer their own version of legislation designed to replace the Affordable Care Act signed by then President Barack Obama in 2010.
Participants at the forum, hosted by Thom Hallock, were chosen by lottery, with numbers drawn to see which had a chance to step to the microphone to ask questions.
Greta Heilman of Brant Lake said Stefanik and her Republican colleagues cheered and celebrated last week's vote while millions of Americans watched, many of them scared about losing their health insurance and access to care.
She said that despite opposition from every major medical association and the American Association of Retired Persons, the bill was pushed through without a Congressional Budget Office report of its effects.
Heilman said about 64,000 people would lose coverage in Stefanik's district alone under the provisions of the bill.
"The ACA gave my parents health insurance for the first time in 20 years and me for the first time since I was 18 years old. How did you give a voice to your constituents?" she asked.
Stefanik outlined some of the reasons for her vote, including ever-increasing costs to consumers with Obamacare, insurers opting out of providing coverage through state exchanges and some physicians refusing to accept that insurance.
"I think we deserve better health care," she said.
When asked, Stefanik identified three issues she fought to have included in the new legislation: an amendment to make members of Congress subject to the provisions of the legislation, ensuring maternity coverage for young mothers and returning Medicare funding to a more equitable balance between the federal and state government, although that wouldn't take full effect until 2020.
Sara Carpenter of Queensbury said her husband, Bob, receives chemotherapy to treat leukemia, which runs about $11,100 a month for the rest of his life, unless a cure is found.
Their insurance has paid $250,000 to keep him alive so far.
"Without this medicine, he'll be dead in less than a year," she said.
Carpenter blames the exorbitant prices on pharmaceutical manufacturers, who seek maximum profits when a medicine is unique.
"They know it's pay or die. It's extortion," Carpenter said.
She asked Stefanik what she would do to provide consumers leverage to negotiate better prices for life-saving medicines. She also asked if Stefanik would sponsor a bill to prohibit legislators who receive funding from pharmaceutical companies from voting on health-care legislation.
"I think this is an opportunity for bipartisan agreement, looking at how our drug pricing is structured in this county," Stefanik said.
She said the president has reached across the aisle to see if drug companies can negotiate prices with the government. Stefanik would also like to see additional funding for research and development of new life-saving drugs by the National Institute of Health.
She skirted the question of banning votes from legislators who accept money from drug companies.
Nina Matteau of Westport noted that Stefanik said federal health funding should go only to federally qualified health centers, not Planned Parenthood. In this rural district, that sometimes means a 20-to-50-mile trip, Matteau said, which can be especially difficult for low-income families.
Matteau said that while President Trump and Republicans have stated people with pre-existing conditions will be covered, there are loopholes.
For example, if someone's coverage lapses for too long, they can be charged higher premiums when they seek insurance. That again disproportionately effects low-income individuals and families, she said, as they are the group most likely to let insurance lapse.
The McArthur amendment allows states to opt out of the pre-existing-condition clause, but only if they provide coverage through high-risk pools, Stefanik said.
But Matteau said that in those cases there are no caps on the premiums an insurer can charge for people with pre-existing conditions, which include heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
As a breast-cancer survivor, Matteau said, she is a high-risk-pool candidate. An estimate she found on CBS Money Watch showed she could be charged between $28,000 a year to $78,000 a year depending on where she lived.
"How does this provide better health care at lower premiums, as promised?" she asked.
Stefanik said she realizes the issue is on the mind of many of her constituents.
"There is language in the AHCA that expressly prohibits insurers from not accepting patients that have pre-existing conditions. It also doesn't allow them to increase prices and charge an individual more if they have pre-existing conditions," she said, to dissenting murmurs from the crowd.
Other topics covered at the forum included climate change, single-payer insurance, coverage for people with disabilities and mental illness and areas where Stefanik differed with Trump, including opposing the construction of a southern border wall and that she thinks he should publicly release his tax returns.
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