Health care policy took the spotlight Monday night at a rowdy town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows in Flat Rock.
The congressman fielded questions from a vocal, engaged crowd that filled the Bo Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College with both supporters and critics.
Early in the meeting, Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald, who also introduced Meadows as “a man of incredible integrity and somebody who really is willing to listen,” had to step in and ask the crowd to be more civil. Many people in the crowd made audibly clear their agreement or disagreement with Meadows’ answers.
Chair of the conservative Freedom Caucus, Meadows has played a key role in the negotiations in Washington, D.C. over the GOP effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Meadows said Monday he thinks a bill will be voted on and presented to President Donald Trump in September — if not, it’s probably not going to happen.
Anything that gets through the Senate won’t repeal all of the Affordable Care Act, he said, as “even with the most aggressive plan that was put forward out of the House and considered in the Senate, it was leaving much of Obamacare in place.”
Before the start of the meeting, health care was also the top concern for protesters gathered outside the auditorium. People gathered in support of and in opposition.
More than 50 people were standing in the designated protest area about an hour before the start of the town hall. The majority were holding signs with messages like “Repeal and Replace Meadows,” “ACA-Refine and Repair, NOT Repeal and Replace” and “Save our Healthcare.”
Others held campaign signs, messages of thanks and support, and even “Mark Meadows for U.S. Senate.”
Handing out sheets of paper with “Disagree” on one side and “Agree” on the other, Jayne Jennings, organizer with Progressive Organized Women of Hendersonville said health care was the main concern of POW members attending the rally, and that they were hoping to hear whether Meadows thinks health care is a right, as she does.
Outside, Susan Kincaid of Mills River pushed for universal health care, arguing that all other developed countries offer affordable universal coverage except the United States, which she said has the highest health care costs and the worst record in terms of citizens’ health.
Nearby, Jennifer Hargett of Flat Rock advocated for the opposite, saying insurance ought to be opened up to the free market and that government needs to get out of health care. It’s not a right, it’s an individual responsibility, she said, adding that Meadows is on the right track.
Phillip Price, Meadows’ Democratic opponent in the upcoming race, stood with protesters outside.
Price’s two-part question was the first Meadows answered, asking what insurance Meadows currently has and what coverage he would get if Obamacare is repealed.
Meadows said he is covered by Obamacare, but if it were repealed, he would not fall back on federal coverage. Technically he could have exempted himself, but “I felt like if I was going to have one standard that applied to all of you, that the same standard needed to apply to me.”
Meadows said his premiums for coverage for himself and his wife are a little more than $1,000 a month with a $7,500 deductible, “so as we look at that, it’s all about trying to make sure we bring those premiums down.” In health care reforms, Meadows said he’s always been committed to bringing down premiums and covering pre-existing conditions.
People are having to decide between mortgage payments and insurance payments, Meadows said.
He noted one effort to allow association plans, saying right now it’s illegal for a group like the Board of Realtors to offer insurance to its members, yet it could provide a policy that could be as cheap as an employer plan.
Asked how he would propose to provide health care to residents of Western North Carolina if Obamacare is repealed, Meadows said there are options including Medicare for all, a free market approach, association plans and increasing funds and block granting those funds to the states, which received boos from the crowd.
“Now I find that interesting because many of you who want Medicare for all want the government to tell you what you’re going to charge and not charge, and yet you don’t want the state to do that,” he said. “I don’t understand that.”
The price of Medicare for all would be unbelievably high, Meadows said, a figure in the trillions and not billions of dollars, and that there has to be a tax. When someone in the crowd shouted “on the rich!,” Meadows responded that even if the top 1 percent of earners in the country were taxed at 100 percent, it still wouldn’t pay for it, a statement that brought still more shouts and disagreements from the audience.
He asked members of the audience to send him information if they had it. “If you’ve got a way to pay for Medicare for all, that will tackle one of the problems,” Meadows said.
The other problem with that approach is that “when you look at government intervention in health care as a provider, it’s not necessarily the most efficient or best way to do that,” he said.
One question asked if there is any hope a decent plan will get approved this year. Meadows answered that Congress has reached a critical point, and some in the audience were likely wondering why there wasn’t a plan on Trump’s desk Jan. 20.
He said there’s going to be a whole lot of work while lawmakers are in recess for a bill to get marked up in September, when he anticipates a vote early and a bill to Trump by the end of the month. The longer it takes, the more unlikely it gets that something will be signed into law, he added.
“We don’t want a decision in Washington, D.C. to create a crisis for anybody in health care,” he said, adding that that’s not the intent, and it requires lawmakers to work diligently to get it right.
Meadows said he finds that a free-market approach is the best way to bring down costs, a statement that drew a cheer from the crowd. He used the example of the breaking up of phone company monopolies that he said led to rates dropping from $1.05 per minute to less than $0.05 per minute, and led to the development of cell phones.
“That’s what the free market can do,” he said.
Meadows reiterated his support for the Second Amendment when asked about his rationale for supporting gun laws that police officers oppose. He said he’s unaware of what laws he supports that police don’t and that, “if you want somebody who doesn’t support the Second Amendment, you probably want a different member of Congress, because I’m not going to yield.”
Two questioners asked Meadows about his support for raising the debt ceiling. He said he believes the fundamental problem is that far too much money is spent in the capitol, noting that seven of the richest counties in the country are in and around Washington, D.C. One thing he and others have been working for is to not vote for any debt ceiling increase that doesn’t come with some kind of spending cut or reform.
Talking about the debt ceiling, the full faith and credit of the country doesn’t need to be at risk, he said. He equated it to maxing out a credit card every month and calling for an increase in the credit limit.
“At some point, you have to have some fiscal restraint,” he said.
Among the options being looked at also include support for a debt ceiling increase with $250 billion in cuts over 10 years;, to do structural reforms to prioritize debt so that parts of the government can stay open in the event that funds aren’t appropriated; and a regulatory executive order from Trump calling for only one new regulation for every two eliminated, which could be attached to the debt ceiling.
Asked if Meadows would support a federal or state law requiring presidential candidates to release tax returns, he answered that while he’s in favor of transparency and in favor of presidential candidates disclosing that information, he doesn’t support a law mandating it.
“The last time I checked, in the Constitution, it wasn’t there,” he said.
Meadows said the biggest concerns in the region are jobs and the economy, immigration and veterans’ issues including homelessness. Some counties are doing well economically but many aren’t. He spoke with two farmers Monday who expressed the need for agricultural labor, saying that needs to be addressed, but it starts with secure borders that then allow the issue to be dealt with on a region-by-region basis.
Meadows is in favor of a wall on the border with Mexico. In answering the last question of the night, he said that if any money is allocated for that effort, it will likely be a little more than $2 billion, though the entire cost has been estimated at $12 billion to $20 billion. He doesn’t think Mexico will be paying for it.
He also showed support for a work requirement for people receiving government assistance, floating a 20-hour work requirement that could also be met by volunteering or attending vocational training. When Maine put a similar plan into action, “72 percent came off the rolls.”
An apple farmer Meadows spoke with said his biggest competition in getting people to work at his packing house is the federal government, because it pays people to stay at home.
Meadows urged people to continue to contact his office, and said that any questions that weren’t answered will get a personal response.
During March, his office received 17,000 phone calls, all of which are tracked, he said. From January to July, his office received more than 29,000 emails and letters.
He also thanked the crowd for being respectful. While it was a very vocal crowd, Meadows said it still was encouraging that “we can have this kind of discourse.”
Meadows tackles health care at town hall – News – Hendersonville Times-News