U. S. Rep. Matthew Cartwright offered a reality check on the new federal Affordable Care Act – less affectionately known as Obamacare – and shot down some myths during his 90-minute town hall meeting in Northampton County Monday afternoon.
The freshman Congressman, a Democrat who represents the 17th District, was joined at the front of the room in the Wilson Community Center by Athena Ford, advocacy director at the Pennsylvania Health Care Access Network, and Jim Palmquist, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of AARP.
Most of the town meeting was spent responding to questions and comments submitted in writing by 85 people in the audience. A few people just blurted out remarks, but Cartwright graciously responded to them as well.
Cartwright told the audience: “I am here to listen to your concerns and your thoughts, because I am absolutely committed to making changes to this law that make sense and make it work for all Americans.
“What I am not open to is giving up on the Affordable Care Act’s goal of universal access to health care and its steps to bring down insurance costs by increasing preventive medicine and competition, ending the practice of denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and banning annual and lifetime limits for health care coverage.
“They were unquestionably the right steps to take for this nation.”
The Congressman explained at the outset that he was not there to talk about politics, but to explain the nuts and bolts of the new health care law, which takes effect Jan. 1. He encouraged people to talk with him one-on-one about politics after the meeting.
Cartwright did not seem to take offense at criticisms aimed at Congress and Obamacare, at one point saying: “I can take it. I’m not in it for the money. I’m trying to do a good job.”
The conversation ranged from “young invincibles” who don’t think they need health insurance to sealing up the “doughnut hole” in Medicare coverage for seniors.
The audience laughed in response to one question, which asked if Cartwright had read the entire health care bill before voting on it.
“I didn’t vote on it,” said Cartwright. “I wasn’t in Congress when that came up for a vote. And I still haven’t read all of it. It’s like 2,700 pages.” But he added he has read summaries, “so the salient points get reviewed. We know where the controversial parts are and the things that really matter to Americans.”
One woman got into an argument with several others in the audience when she said the government is mandating what kind of insurance she should have. She said people are smart enough to make that decision for themselves and the government is taking away individual rights.
When Cartwright suggested that’s a valid but political viewpoint, the woman snapped: “No it isn’t.”
Several other snapped back: “Yes it is.”
The written questions, many about specific circumstances, were read to the three-member panel by Wilson Mayor David Perusso.
Ford recommended people with specific questions about the health care act can get help by going to localhelp.healthcare.gov and then typing in their zip code to find a certified application counselor.
It was the third and final town hall meeting on the new health care law that was scheduled by the 52-year-old Cartwright, who lives in Moosic, Lackawanna County.
“Obviously, the roll-out of this health care law has been pretty rocky and the problems with it have been unacceptable,” he acknowledged.
“The website doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. I hope that they get that fixed as soon as possible. It must be fixed for this thing to work.
He added: “The administration in Washington should have been much more forthcoming and honest with itself and with the public about the website’s shortcomings. The job now is to get the site working and getting it done right.
“The President also should have been accurate – and he has acknowledged as much -- about keeping certain policies in effect. The fact is policies that don’t meet the minimum coverage standards were always subject to cancellation. The President should have said that from the beginning.”
Cartwright said he is concerned about whether the law will result in higher insurance costs for some current policy holders. “I want a better system to the uninsured, for seniors and for working middle-class families and I’m open to adjustments on this Affordable Care Act to achieve it.”
Benefits of new law
“Over 70 percent of Americans are incredibly confused when it comes to what’s in the law,” said Ford. “A huge percentage of folks still don’t even know the law exists. And even more are very confused about what it means and what it does for them.
“A lot of folks think the health care law helps uninsured people get access to coverage and it does that very well. But the majority of what’s written is giving people who have insurance new rights and new protections.”