WILLINGBORO, NJ — When high-school senior Joseph Zetkulic got the chance to ask a question early in Rep. Tom MacArthur’s (R-NJ) nearly five-hour-long town hall on Wednesday night, there was one that question that came to mind.
“How did it pass your conscience to allow rape to become a pre-existing condition?” he asked, to thunderous applause from the crowd. “Is rape considered a pre-existing condition under your amendment, yes or no?”
MacArthur is newly notorious as the co-author of the MacArthur-Meadows amendment, which got Trumpcare enough votes to get across the finish line in the House by giving states the option to roll back protections for people with pre-existing conditions and Obamacare’s essential coverage mandates.
“It’s not a woman’s issue, it’s just a human issue.”
Before Obamacare made such discrimination illegal, there were reports of domestic violence victims and others being refused coverage due to their abuse. Now that MacArthur’s amendment opens the door for pre-existing conditions to once again be considered by insurance companies, many worry that survivors of sexual trauma — as well as those who have been treated for a whole host of gender-related illnesses, such as postpartum depression and cesarean sections, may once again face discrimination in the form of higher insurance costs.
MacArthur refused to give a straightforward answer as to how his amendment would affect rape survivors, calling the concerns “hysteria,” a word with a loaded history — it comes from the greek word for womb, and was once used as a bogus medical disorder levied at women.
“Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have debunked that,” he continued, referring to the reports surrounding rape being considered a preexisting condition. The crowd broke out in jeers and chants of “answer the question.”
MacArthur, however, moved on. Then about half an hour later, one of Zetkulic’s classmates, Daisy Confoy, got the microphone.
“I’d like to go back to a question that my friend Joey asked you, which you neglected to answer. Is rape considered a preexisting condition under your amendment?” she asked, saying that statistically, one in five women will be sexually assaulted in college. “Yes or no? Yes, or no? One word, please.”
“Folks, you get to ask the questions, and I get to give the answers,” MacArthur said in response, before being again drowned out by boos.
— Drew Smith (@drewsmithtv) May 10, 2017
After long minutes of grilling from Confoy, he said that he would not “reduce” rape to being called a preexisting condition — but never answered how his amendment, which would allow states to opt out of some of Obamacare’s protections for those with preexisting conditions, would treat victims of sexual violence.
“As frustrating as it is, not answering is as good as an answer at that point,” Zetkulic told ThinkProgress after the town hall, calling MacArthur’s answer “very insufficient.”
“I don’t think anyone in the room is convinced by what he said. We’re all on the same page,” Confoy said.
“It’s not a woman’s issue, it’s just a human issue,” Zetkulic added.
Both Confoy and Zetkulic are seniors at North Burlington High School in New Jersey. For both of them, it was their first town hall — and while neither was very impressed with MacArthur, the overall experience got positive ratings.
“I like it. I think it’s effective. A lot of people like to silence the anger and the shouting out, but I think that’s the purpose of a town hall, because the Congressman needs to feel that heat and feel that anger — we’re not here to be passive,” Zetkulic said. “That’s not why we showed up today.”
There was plenty of anger to go around on Wednesday. MacArthur’s answers were often punctuated with boos and derisive laughter from the crowd, and more than once the crowd yelled at him for lying when he claimed that his amendment provided for those with pre-existing conditions, or that Trumpcare wouldn’t result in Medicaid cuts (it cuts federal Medicaid spending by $880 billion).
Willingboro, where MacArthur held the town hall, is the most Democratic town in his district. In 2016, he obtained a little over 10 percent of its vote.
Zetkulic and Confoy, however, weren’t impressed by MacArthur’s decision to hold a town hall after the vote (he’s one of barely a dozen Republican lawmakers, out of the 217 who voted for the bill, to do so), nor by his holding it in a blue district.
“It’s his job,” said Confoy. “It’s casework. He works for us. The government works for us. He needs to listen to the people, and he needs to listen to us.”
Giving him credit for holding the town hall, added Zetkulic, was “like telling a cashier that gives you the right change, ‘You did a really good job.’ It’s in the job description.”
Both seniors — just barely reaching voting age — said that there’s been a definite uptick in civic participation and engagement among their other classmates. They came to the town hall on Wednesday in a group of nine teens, and predicted that as a result of President Trump’s election, youth turnout would skyrocket in 2018.
They also said that despite some criticism over their tone, they intend to stay fired up.
“A few people were coming up to us and telling us, you should channel your anger,” said Confoy, shrugging. “We’re young. We have to be angry while we can.”