• Dr. Brian Mitchell addresses overflow crowd during the town hall meeting Friday night.
    Dr. Brian Mitchell addresses overflow crowd during the town hall meeting Friday night.

Town Hall talks about Affordable Care Act

Hayesville – A standing-room-only crowd jammed the Clay County Courthouse multipurpose room Friday evening to vent frustrations and concerns over health care generally, and a possible repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act specifically.

More than 100 people filled the seats in the 70-seat capacity room, then lined rear walls and doorways. Some even sat on the floor.

Notably absent from the gathering was the invited guest, North Carolina’s 11th District Congressman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) nor any member of his staff. His failure to participate was noted by an empty chair at the front of the room.

Organizer Susan Morgan, who also is Hayesville’s town clerk, welcomed the group to a Public Policy Network’s Town Hall and told them, “This is something we are doing for the long haul. We’re concerned about issues that are affecting us.”

The group is holding monthly meetings with citizens who want to share concerns about the environment, health care, civil rights and other issues making their way to the front burners in Washington.

“This is our first community-wide event,” Morgan said.

The group has begun meeting monthly. They contacted Meadows’ office and talked with his staff but, “We weren’t able to get the response we were hoping for,” she added.

Not a failure

Dr. Brian Mitchell, who has been in private practice in Murphy for four decades, led off the evening’s discussion with a recap of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and what it has done for some of his patients.

“We were concerned about what was happening in Washington with the Affordable Care Act,” Mitchell said. “We wanted to meet with our congressman and express our views and support of the Affordable Care Act. We tried to meet with him to discuss the issues in person, but we were not allowed to. We sent an email. We were told there would be no commitment for his attendance. 

“We felt that a town hall meeting was necessary, even if he did not show.”

Mitchell said that he, as a doctor, takes his responsibility to his patients very seriously.

“I think Meadows should take his responsibility seriously to hear from his constituents about the health care needs in District 11,” he added, generating a round of applause. “Don’t let anybody tell you the Affordable Care Act is a failure, because it is not.”

Mitchell recounted experiences with several of his patients the act has helped. He described people who because of the act finally could afford medical testing, families with annual incomes between $8,000-20,000, people with no insurance or Medicaid, and patients trying to hold on until they reach age 65 and qualify for Medicare before undergoing medical tests. Some do not make it.

“Medicaid is not part of North Carolina. The poorest of our people do not get good care,” he said.

“It’s not a perfect plan,” Mitchell conceded regarding the act, which also is called Obamacare. “It’s not had a perfect outcome. A lot of people have higher premiums. But health-care costs are going up for everybody. We don’t solve the problem of higher premiums by abandoning a very good program. I don’t think repeal and replacement will satisfy the problem. My view is that health care is a right, not a commodity.”

Joining Mitchell at the head table were Judith Wikstrom, Mary Lightener and Pam Howard. Lightener, who said she has 30 years of experience as a policy analyst with the Virginia General Assembly and also has worked with that state’s Medicaid agency, noted a grassroots groundswell of support for the Affordable Care Act.

Pam Howard of Brasstown, resident weaver at John C. Campbell Folk School, said she and her husband watched their health-care premiums climb to $2,100 per month with a private pay insurer, then drop into the $500 range under the Affordable Care Act.

“Thank God it was there. I would love to have the insurance policies that our congressmen and representatives have,” she said, drawing loud applause.

Retired registered nurse and nurse practitioner Judith Wikstrom observed that overwhelming medical bills are the No.1 cause for bankruptcies in this nation.

Addressing her remarks to Meadows’ vacant chair, Wikstrom detailed a number of health-care areas she said are guaranteed coverage by the ACA, including ambulatory care, emergency services, hospitalization, rehabilitative care, pediatric care, maternity and new born care, mental health, prescription drugs, chronic disease management, laboratory expenses, and preventive health and wellness exams.

“We want a guarantee that these same health benefits are going to be covered,” she said. 

Not a partisan issue

Members of the audience were invited to voice their concerns. Here is a sampling of their comments:

* “They want you to have a health savings account, but we’re basically self-insured. That’s $5,500 per person for only one plan. How can people surviving week to week put $5,500 in a health insurance plan?”

* “Obamacare was the Republican plan back in the early ‘80s. Granted, there are things wrong with Obamacare, but it’s better than what most of us can get.”

* “If we repeal and replace it, we lose all the taxes imposed that fund this insurance program. Where is this funding coming from (for a new plan)?”

* “The Affordable Care Act said insurance companies have to spend 80 cents of every premium dollar on actual health care. If we don’t have it, they’ll just go back to funding their jet planes.”

* “I don’t understand the disconnect between us and our representatives. I called the office of  (U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.). Then I saw Sen. Tillis is down at the border of Texas and Mexico making sure we’re safe. I’m not worried about an invasion from Mexico. I’m worried about my health care.”

* “The thing to do is to fix it. In 25 years, the Republicans have never been able to work out a health-care plan they can agree on. We can see what the problems are. Let’s fix ‘em.”

* “I hope everybody here will connect the dots. These people (in Washington) are conducting an assault on our health care. Look at the big picture. Think bigger when you think about health care.”

* “If you have a pre-existing condition, will you have a lifetime cap?”

* “Congressman Meadows has not been responsive to us for a long time. Who do we have to run against him? They’re creating a class war here.”

* “What concerns our politicians is the top half of 1 percent (of the population). Our politicians know this is bad for us. All they are concerned with are the lobbyists and big businesses funding their campaigns.”

* “This is not a partisan issue. This affects our whole community, and we need to be talking to our neighbors about it.”

   Friday’s meeting seemed fairly typical of recent town halls across the country. When Congress went into recess Feb. 20-24, many lawmakers visited their home districts and got an earful.

Some elected officials just avoided the experience, as did Meadows and his staff. In some cases, a disappointed citizenry retaliated in ingenious ways.

In California’s Eighth District, constituents posted U.S. Rep. Paul Cook’s face on a milk carton, reminiscent of an ad for missing children.

In Colorado, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s absence at a town hall meeting at a church generated a sign on the pulpit with Garner’s name as a local teacher tried to explain Gardner’s positions. She was greeted by a chorus of boos from the crowd before responding, “It’s not me!”

At Friday’s meeting in Hayesville, participants signed a petition to send to Meadows’ office and urged participants to reach out to him. Meadows’ website, https://meadows.house.gov/contact, has a message saying, “Contact us.” His mailing address is 1024 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.

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