BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN About 40 people attended Delano Senior Center’s fireside chat featuring US Rep Tom Emmer (R-Delano) July 6, and many of them asked questions related to health care and the American Health Care Act.
Before the questions even began, Emmer addressed the AHCA in his opening comments.
“With health care, there’s a lot of misinformation,” Emmer said. “ . . . We’re cutting Medicaid? No we’re not. Medicaid will grow over the next 10 years under either Republican proposal . . . You know why the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) scored it as a cut? Because it’s a decrease in the proposed increase.”
Similarly, Emmer had read that Minnesota would lose $2 billion in funding under the AHCA, which he said would also actually be a decrease in an increase.
Emmer said changes are needed to ensure Medicare does not go insolvent by 2028.
He would prefer granting tax breaks to entities to safety nets rather than the government maintaining them. However, if the government is going to operate safety nets, “we need to make sure they provide what they’re supposed to provide,” he said.
Emmer spoke of the expansion of Medicaid to include able-bodied, working-age adults under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
He does not believe the ACA can be fixed.
“It’s collapsing in on itself right now,” Emmer said.
He noted that Minnesotans on average experienced a 59 percent premium increase in 2017, following a 47 percent premium increase on average in 2016.
Wally Johnson said he was “astounded and disappointed that, after seven years of Republican criticism of Obamacare, that it took a great deal of effort to get the House bill passed,” and that it will take more work to pass it in the Senate. He asked if members of the House and Senate work together on the bills, or if they are allowed to do so.
Emmer said legislators do work together, but it doesn’t make headlines because it’s “not exciting.”
“First, I’d suggest to you making this thing work has never been pretty,” Emmer said. “You have people all over the country trying to do the right thing for the people they represent. There are going to be differences of opinions . . . What I do like is there is a healthy discussion, and people are trying to make sure, whatever they’re doing, they know what the consequences are. Because the worst things you get out of government is when people rush into something, which is part of what happened with the ACA.”
He opposes repealing the ACA without a replacement, as some legislators are suggesting.
“We’ve already invested six months, actually a lot more than six months,” Emmer said. “We’re going to get there.”
Emmer suggested that if a state likes the ACA, that state can continue to use it. If not, states can receive a waiver and put together programs tailored to those states.
Resident Bruce Larson asked that health care not only be made accessible, but acquirable.
“I can access a Mercedes and a Rolls Royce, but I can’t necessarily acquire it,” Larson said. “That’s the way I feel it is with health care. Republicans keep saying, ‘We will have accessibility.’ They never use the word acquirability. I’d like to see how you define it.”
“I think it’s the same thing,” Emmer said. “You can disagree with me.”
“People working at minimum wage or slightly above it, if they’re trying to feed themselves and have a place to live, health care is not affordable,” Larson said.
Emmer contended the way to hold costs down is to have a market that introduces more competition and choice, in addition to growing the economy by at least 3 to 5 percent, compared to the current 2 percent.
“Do you believe health care is a right?” one person asked.
“I believe everybody should have access to whatever they need,” Emmer said. “I think we all have the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.”
Regarding pre-existing conditions, Emmer said, “There’s specific language that anyone with a pre-existing condition is guaranteed coverage.”
He acknowledged that premiums might increase for those individuals, but added that a $15 billion stability fund would be used to address those increases.
A resident asked Emmer if he was worried about things President Donald Trump has said, in light of local racist acts and “students saying they can discriminate because the president said it’s OK.”
“I refuse to be drawn into an emotional argument about likes and dislikes,” Emmer said.
Rather, he talked about how he has worked with people from communities throughout his district, including Somali and Mexican immigrants.
“We don’t always agree, but I see positives all the time,” Emmer said. “I do not ignore when somebody steps out. I’m just going to tell you, I call it out.”
When asked about the CBO’s prediction that 22 million people will lose health care under the AHCA, Emmer said, “The CBO hasn’t exactly had a very good track record when it comes to predicting how many people will be insured or uninsured.”
Emmer said the CBO used assumptions from 2016, not 2017, to estimate, along with saying “7 million people are going to lose coverage because of Medicare reform, but it shows 7 million people will be added to the individual market.”
About a dozen people applauded when an individual suggested universal health care.
“I suggest to you I’m not your guy,” Emmer said. “I represent 650,000 to 700,000 people. The vast majority of them are demanding more choices. The vast majority of them do not want to turn over their health care decisions to some bureaucrat in Washington. The vast majority of them are saying the system is broken.”
Regarding universal health care, Emmer said someone he played hockey with lives in Canada and had to wait five months to have a torn meniscus repaired.
“I asked him why he didn’t go to Washington state,” Emmer said. “He said, ‘It would cost me five times as much.’”
He contested the notion that the House passed the AHCA behind closed doors without public input.
“There have been public hearings on the current health care bills,” Emmer said. “The House had the longest public committee hearing in the history of Congress. It was over 24 hours long. The Ways and Means Committee had a similar committee meeting. It went through every single process . . . It has been very open.”
Senior and Community Services Coordinator Nick Neaton asked, “Are there outside influences in Washington, and how do they affect people who go there from places like Delano?”
“There’s outside influences everywhere you go,” Emmer said. “I know who I represent. I know what I stand for. A lot of people go to Washington and don’t go home. I come home every weekend. I sleep in my office on an air mattress. I don’t want to live in Washington.”
Other topics discussed included flood insurance and the repeal of Dodd-Frank banking reform.
Emmer referenced the owners of a house in Delano that has never flooded who were required to purchase flood insurance in order to refinance the home. Examples like that show the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s maps are flawed, Emmer believes.
“One of the reforms is to try to require them to use the mapping that Minnesota uses,” Emmer said. “ . . . We’re trying to stimulate more private market, trying to get more insurance companies to offer flood insurance so people who have to buy flood insurance can find an affordable price.”
Regarding banking reform, Emmer said, “The problem with the Dodd-Frank law is it was designed for the largest banks in the land, but it applies to all financial service providers and banks.”
For that reason, Emmer said 2,000 banks and 2,000 credit unions have closed.
“What’s happening is the bigger banks are eating up the smaller banks because the smaller banks can’t afford to operate in this new regulatory environment that was created essentially for less than 10 banks six to seven banks with $50 billion in assets.”
Throughout the event, there were tense moments, as individuals argued amongst each other and raised voices, including two individuals who arrived in the last five minutes and attempted to engage Emmer on the topic of health care as he was leaving for another event.