On May 4th, 217 House Republicans voted to pass the Affordable Health Care Act, popularly known as Trumpcare. Then, they went on a week-long recess—traditionally when lawmakers return to their home districts and meet with constituents.
Of the 217 lawmakers, however, fewer than 20 held town halls. Those who did were confronted with constituents outraged by the health care vote.
In New York, protesters outside Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R) live-taped town hall, which was broadcast on local channels, gathered and chanted “shame.” They carried signs depicting her as a grim reaper, and many demanded single-payer health care.
In Iowa, Rep. Rod Blum (R) faced hostile crowds in a series of town halls throughout the week. At the first, on Monday night, the crowd held up green and red pieces of paper to signal agreement or disagreement with his statements. There was a lot more red paper visible than green.
In Idaho, constituents shouted down Rep. Raul Labrador (R) after he claimed “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”
And in North Carolina, constituents confronted Rep. Mark Meadows (R) — one of the architects of the amendment that got the bill across the finish line—at a meet-and-greet outside of a bakery. It turned into an impromptu town hall, and Rep. Meadows was peppered with questions from the crowd. He told a nurse concerned about Medicaid that nothing would change in North Carolina because the state didn’t opt in to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, but he failed to mentioned that Trumpcare would also impose a per-capita cap on Medicaid spending and cut $880,000 billion from the program over all, which would have an impact on Medicaid.
This type of dodge was typical throughout the week, as lawmakers stretched the truth to defend their decision to pass the bill without a current CBO score, to roll back Medicaid, and to dissolve protections on health insurance for people preexisting conditions. The CBO score for a previous, similar version of the bill estimated that it would cause 24 million fewer people to be insured by 2026. The new CBO score is expected the week of May 22.
Lawmakers stuck to some common refrains, which included saying that the bill didn’t actually get rid of protections on preexisting conditions — it still prohibits insurers from denying people coverage. They often left out, however, that it opens the door for people to get charged more for their conditions, which could lead to vulnerable populations being priced out.
Another common line was that the bill didn’t discriminate based on gender, because it includes language prohibiting explicit gender discrimination. Functionally, however, rolling back the essential health benefits provision is likely to result in women paying much more for health insurance than men as the cost of maternity coverage and contraceptive care skyrockets.
Republicans often cite repealing these requirements as a victory of Trumpcare. In New Jersey, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R), who co-wrote the amendment rolling back these requirements along with Meadows, defended his amendments to Trumpcare towards the end of a lengthy town hall on Wednesday.
“A 26 year old male is required to pay for maternity and pediatric care,” he told Mark Callaghan, a constituent from Bayville, as a reference to what he saw as Obamacare’s flaws.
“I have yet to meet a woman who can get pregnant on her own,” Callaghan shot back.
MacArthur (R) endured a 5-hour grilling from constituents — many of whom lined up hours before the event to make sure they could get inside.
He, too, claimed that the bill would actually help New Jersey residents on Medicaid — despite the fact that New Jersey opted in to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and in addition to the effect of coverage caps, Trumpcare could result in more than 500,000 New Jerseyans losing coverage, according to local media.
MacArthur also dismissed concerns over protections for those with preexisting conditions and argued that the bill was a tax break for everybody, not just the rich. But one of his own constituents fact-checked that claim by calculating that MacArthur, reportedly worth around $30 million, would save tens of thousands, while some of those in the room said they already didn’t make enough to qualify for tax breaks at all.
At one point near the middle of the town hall, MacArthur tried to excuse Trumpcare’s flaws.
“Members of Congress don’t vote on the bill they wish was in front of them,” he said. “They vote on the bill that is in front of them.”
“You put it there! You were its architect!” a constituent yelled back immediately, to raucous applause from the crowd. “This is your health care bill. It was dead in the water, and then you got it through,” another told him.
Without the MacArthur-Meadows amendment, it’s extremely unlikely that the bill would have passed. MacArthur’s constituents reminded him of this fact again and again throughout the night.
“And anything that happens to someone like me, or anyone else who can’t afford health care in this country, it is going to be his fault and the fault of every single Republican who voted for that bill,” Bob Finkelstein, who has multiple sclerosis, told ThinkProgress while waiting outside MacArthur’s town hall before it began. “People are going to die.”