At the Richmond Times-Dispatch “public square” forum yesterday, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) fielded open questions from his constituents on the health reform debate for the first time this summer.
Patricia Churchill relayed a story about a close family member who recently lost a high paying job and her health insurance. Churchill told Cantor that her relative was dying of stomach tumors and needs an operation as soon as possible. Cantor responded by suggesting that Churchill’s relative should seek “existing government programs” or find charity.
Cantor, who serves as the chief whip for his party, has said that he cannot support a health reform bill with a public option. But despite his political opposition to government insurance programs, Cantor then emphasized to Churchill that every American should be given an “option” for health care, including a government program:
CHURCHILL: I have a very close relative, a woman in her early forties, who did have a wonderful, high-paying job, owns her own home and is a real contributing member of society. She lost her job. Just a couple of weeks ago, she found out that she has tumors in her belly and that she needs an operation. Her doctors told her that they are growing and that she needs to get this operation quickly. She has no insurance. [...]
CANTOR: First of all I guess I would ask what the situation is in terms of income eligibility and the existing programs that are out there. Because if we look at the uninsured that are out there right now, there is probably 23, 24% of the uninsured that is already eligible for an existing government program [...] Beyond that, I know that there are programs, there are charitable organizations, there are hospitals here who do provide charity care if there’s an instance of indigency and the individual is not eligible for existing programs that there can be some cooperative effort. No one in this country, given who we are, should be sitting without an option to be addressed.
In an interview with ThinkProgress after the event, Churchill explained that her relative, who needs help now, probably won’t qualify for a low-income government program like Medicaid and that there are very long waiting periods for charity programs. Asked about Cantor’s response to her question, Churchill said, “it was helpful in a sense, but of course nowhere near as helpful as having this healthcare reform bill passed so that we could know that she could definitely go and get taken care of.”
Today, Cantor called for “scrapping” President Obama’s proposed public option insurance program.