A conservative Republican congressman from Idaho is drawing criticism for his response to a town-hall attendee’s concerns about how his party’s health-care bill would affect Medicaid recipients.
“You are mandating people on Medicaid to accept dying,” the woman said.
“That line is so indefensible,” said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, a member of the influential House Freedom Caucus. “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”
The boos instantly drowned him out.
The town hall meeting occurred at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, a day after Labrador and 216 other Republicans in the House narrowly passed the American Health Care Act, which would overhaul the country’s health-care system.
The bill was passed hastily, with little debate and key revisions agreed upon during closed-door meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill. The Congressional Budget Office had not analyzed the bill’s cost and impact on coverage before it was approved by the House, but the agency’s analysis of its original version projected that 24 million would lose insurance by 2026.
The estimate also showed that the bill would cut $880 billion from the Medicaid program over the next decade. The program provides health insurance to low-income Americans and helps pay for long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities.
In a statement Saturday, Labrador said his answer to the woman’s question “wasn’t very elegant.” He also criticized the media for focusing on a small portion of an exchange that lasted about seven minutes.
“I was responding to a false notion that the Republican health care plan will cause people to die in the streets, which I completely reject,” Labrador said. “In a lengthy exchange with a constituent, I explained to her that Obamacare has failed the vast majority of Americans. In the five-second clip that the media is focusing on, I was trying to explain that all hospitals are required by law to treat patients in need to emergency care regardless of their ability to pay and that the Republican plan does not change that.”
After the town hall Friday, Labrador said on his Facebook page, “It was my privilege to spend two hours today in Lewiston fielding questions from my constituents, many of them about our efforts to provide quality health care to all Americans at an affordable and sustainable cost.”
But many of the comments to his post were in response to his earlier statement.
“My brother died because he was poor and could not go to a doctor because he couldn’t afford the bills. He is dead. People die because they don’t have access to healthcare,” one Facebook user wrote.
“Quite a few middle-aged people sitting in your audience that you just aced out of health coverage,” another one said.
Twitter also has been flooded with angry posts.
As The Washington Post’s Carolyn Y. Johnson wrote, figuring out exactly how many people would die if access to health care is taken away is not an easy estimate to reach. Johnson wrote:
That’s because the law’s most widespread feature is helping people buy health insurance, and the link between being covered by health insurance and actually being healthier is not fully understood.
… health is a cumulative, complex and long-term outcome, determined not only by health insurance status, but by socioeconomic factors, genetics, lifestyle and the neighborhoods where people live. The differences between having insurance and not having insurance often encapsulates a broad swath of other factors that affect people’s well-being.
It would not, however, be a leap to say that losing health insurance would make someone’s health worse and might even lead to death. Studies have drawn connections between lack of access to health care and mortality rate.
A 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 45,000 deaths annually were linked to lack of health coverage, and that uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of dying than their insured counterparts.
According to another 2009 study by the Institute of Medicine, people without health care are more likely to die if diagnosed with illnesses, such as cancer, congestive heart failure, diabetes and heart attack, among others.
On the other hand, those with access to health care are likely to fare better.
A recent study on young adults found that the average mortality rate among those between ages 19 and 25 who have contracted diseases have dropped by 3 to 6 percent because of expanded coverage. The study examined the impact of an Obamacare provision that allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26.
House Republicans celebrated with the White House Thursday after narrowly passing the controversial repeal-and-replace bill.
In a statement after the bill was passed, Labrador said, “We have negotiated legislation that keeps our promise to the American people to lower health costs while also protecting those with preexisting conditions. Furthermore, unlike the first version of the AHCA, our bill showed it had enough support to actually pass the House.”
An amendment to the bill would allow states to obtain a waiver so they could charge customers with preexisting conditions more than other people. The latest addition, which would provide $8 billion over five years to lower premiums for those with preexisting conditions, swayed some concerned moderate Republican lawmakers to support the bill, allowing the House GOP leadership to secure enough votes to pass it.
Democrats, however, say the $8 billion is not enough and those with preexisting conditions will face the choice of paying exorbitant premiums or carrying no insurance.
The contentious fight to repeal and replace Obamacare is likely to continue on Capitol Hill, as Senate Republicans have indicated that they plan to write their own legislation. Whether it would have similar features as the House bill, or if it would be something entirely different remains unclear.
Labrador is not the first Republican lawmaker to face a hostile crowd during a town hall meeting. Republicans who’ve hosted town halls in the past several months have been met with protests, boos and sharp rebukes from attendees. Some have opted against holding town halls, while President Trump has dismissed the “so-called crowds” as “liberal activists.”
This story, originally posted on May 6, 2017, has been updated.