Although it was billed as a town hall meeting, Congressman Bradley Byrne’s April 18 appearance at Poarch Band of Creek Indians Tribal Chambers quickly turned into a debate on healthcare.
All but about 18 minutes of the not-quite-60-minute session were filled with questions from the audience of about 40 people regarding the future of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Most of the questions and comments were presented in civil, friendly tones, although there were a few detractors who openly defied the Alabama First District congressman’s contentions. When questions that included statistical figures were thrust at Byrne, he either parried with statistics that contradicted those presented, or promised to look into the matter when he returned to Washington.
Throughout the Q&A period and in summary, the U.S. Representative stressed the need to amend or repeal Obamacare, which he labeled a failure. He took every opportunity to speak about the plan that is still under construction in the House and has yet to be sent to the Senate.
“I get a lot of questions about the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “We have a bill pending in Congress that I support. It doesn’t preserve the subsidies that we presently have under the Obamacare program; it supplants them with tax credits that can be converted into cash if (a person) doesn’t make enough money to use the credits.”
Byrne told his audience that about 5 percent of the people in Alabama’s First District are on the Affordable Care Act exchange insurance programs, that Blue Cross Blue Shield was now the only insurer providing coverage to those people, and that the insurance company was taking a financial bath on the coverage.
“Despite the fact they have substantially raised premiums every year, they continue to lose money on the package they offer,” he explained. “It just doesn’t work. If we don’t find a way to make it work, I’m afraid that by the end of the year or the end of next year, there’s not going to be an insurer on our exchange.”
He also noted that he had equal concerns about those residents who are not covered under Obamacare.
“We also have to be concerned about the other 95 percent,” said Byrne. “We’re talking about people whose premiums have gone up 400 or 500 percent, whose deductibles have gone up to $5,000 or $6,000. It might as well be $5 million or $6 million. So we have to do something.”
He also pointed out that the proposal now being discussed and debated in the U.S. House includes a provision aimed at providing care for those who have pre-existing conditions that make their insurance coverage much more expensive.
“We’ve added an amendment to the bill that creates a $15 billion pool for insurers that insure somebody like that,” explained Byrne. “They can reach into that pool and take that money out to bring them back up to being whole for what they’ve had to go out of pocket for to pay for healthcare.”
He admitted that the plan was nowhere near perfect, but said he felt that Congress had “threaded the needle” in regards to providing healthcare that is actually affordable, while at the same time cutting billions from the national budget.
“I think that by having this pool, we will still be able to offer it to them in a way they can afford,” he said. “At the same time, it will do away with the individual mandate and the employer mandate. That would reduce taxes by $900 billion, reduce government spending by $1.2 trillion. It would lower premiums for every age group.
“It looks to me like we’ve got a pretty good package here. Is it perfect? No. Would I have written it somewhat differently? Certainly. But I think the package we’ve got now can give relief on premiums, relief on deductibles, and at the same time be there to make sure we’ve got healthcare for you and a way to support it.”
Byrne said he personally favors a move to allow consumers to shop across state lines for insurance coverage and drew applause when he said he and his Republican colleagues want to remove government from the healthcare equation.
“I don’t want government making decision for you or me about healthcare,” he proclaimed. “I want you to make those decisions with your doctor. I want to see it done in a way where you’re in control, with real competition, which we don’t have now.”
During the final portion of the town hall meeting, Byrne talked about a recent trip he made to South Korea, where he said the seriousness of the situation in that area hit home. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is using the pursuit of nuclear weapons as a way of assuring himself that he would not be overthrown, said Byrne, who added that, in his opinion, President Trump and his administration were reacting properly to the threat.
“We cannot let him get to that stage,” the Congressman said of the Asian dictator. “I think the president and the vice president are making the right moves; I think the secretary of defense is making the right moves; I think the secretary of state is making the right moves. I believe we have the right commanders in place, we have the right understanding of the situation to do what’s got to be done. But it is very dangerous.”