A moderate Republican largely credited with cinching conservative support for House Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill answered to an angry town hall Wednesday night.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) spoke to constituents in a heavily Democratic area of his district for more than four hours, largely attempting to justify the amendment he made to the American Health Care Act, credited with bringing over conservatives anxious that the bill’s first, failed iteration didn’t do enough to dismantle Obamacare. Attendees to the town hall also spent a considerable amount of time on the recent ouster of fired FBI Director James Comey.
“This is your health care bill. It was dead in the water, it could have stayed dead in the water, and now it’s the MacArthur Amendment that brought this thing forward,” attendee Derek Reichenbecher told MacArthur at one point, WNYC reported.
An amendment penned by MacArthur, the moderate Tuesday Group co-chair, and the House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) would allow states to opt out of Obamacare’s required Essential Health Benefits, and its pricing protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions, under certain circumstances.
MacArthur told angry constituents Wednesday that the pricing protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions would only be waived in states that had opted out if individuals experienced a 63-day gap in insurance coverage. Critics of the amendment point out that spurts of unemployment or economic hardship often result in those gaps. Also, even insured individuals protected by Obamacare’s regulations could face higher costs as a result of the amendment’s incentivizing of dual insurance markets for healthier and sicker people.
“You have been the single greatest threat to my family in the entire world. You are the reason I stay up at night. You are the reason that I can’t sleep,” Geoff Ginter told MacArthur, Philly.com reported.
Ginter’s wife, he said, was recovering from breast cancer. But, he said, “now she also has to contend with, what if my husband loses his job?”
The Republican plan would also severely cut the expansion of Medicaid authorized by Obamacare, and would cap the program via a per capita block grant to the states, in turn limiting funds further.
“It’s not easy to stay clean,” said one attendee struggling with drug addiction, per WNYC. “And with the help that I received in Medicaid, it kept me clean for this long. What’s going to happen to us if you cut this bill? What’s going to happen with our recovery? Without it, it’s jails, institutions or death.”
“I am trying to save a system so it continues to help you,” MacArthur said, repeating the Republican line that the program’s expansion had created unsustainable growth.
Attendees also pointed out that Republicans have undermined and even sabotaged the same individual insurance market they’ve claimed their bill is an attempt to save.
“Here is my concern. After 30 years in insurance, I am watching an insurance market that is collapsing. And here is why it’s collapsing—” MacArthur began, as captured by ABC, before being cut off.
“Because you drilled holes in it!” someone yelled.
“I have a question in regards to Russia,” one attendee asked sometime later. “We seem to have a pattern that most people investigating it seem to be getting fired. Do you support an independent group investigating Russia’s ties into the 2016 election?”
“The answer is no, not yet,” MacArthur said after waiting for an outburst of cheering and heckles to die down, though his answer prompted even more heckling.
In response to a similar question, captured by the network, he explained his reasoning: “The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee did recuse himself, but that investigation is now continuing in a bipartisan manner.” The room erupted, negatively.
“It is,” he continued. “The Senate chair and the ranking member have both publicly declared that they’re working closely together on their investigation. Publicly. So you asked what I want to see. I want to see the results of their investigation.”
“How is it ever going to get finished if you keep firing the people that are conducting the investigation?” someone asked to applause.
“Well, you asked and I answered,” he said.