SUBLETTE — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran continued his unscreened town hall listening tour in Sublette on Friday, fielding questions on health care and other topics from a mostly receptive crowd that was still wary of what the future of health care will bring to rural patients.
About 55 people assembled to hear what Moran had to say during what he called his 1,220th town hall meeting as a member of Congress, after he faced intense pressure the day before at another town hall in Palco. Attendees were expressly appreciative of Moran’s service in many instances; however, they remained critical of the health-care bill put forth by the Republican Senate that was drafted virtually in secret, without a single public hearing or bill-drafting session.
The pressure on Moran in Sublette was markedly lower than it was in Palco, with a smaller crowd, fewer advocacy groups and the absence of national media outlets such as CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post, which ventured out to Kansas to get a look at the changing attitude toward health-care policy in the state at Thursday's meeting.
The counties that hosted Moran’s listening tour, including Rooks, Haskell and Seward counties, voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, with respective leads of 73, 60 and 32 points, and just three of Kansas’ 105 counties voted for Clinton.
But now, a state that seemingly voted for the implicit repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, a key component of the Trump platform, may be doubling back with data showing that the Republicans’ new health-care plan would leave 120,000 Kansans without health insurance in 2026, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The plan also would impose a 35-percent cut to Medicaid by 2036, according to a Congressional Budget Office report, presumably leaving the 30 at-risk hospitals in Kansas without a place to stand.
After a delayed vote of the Senate’s bill last week, Moran said the bill “missed the mark” and held his stance in Palco when he vowed to evaluate any proposed health care bill on whether it makes premiums more affordable, protects patients with pre-existing conditions, protects rural health care and affords Medicaid providers adequate compensation without inhibiting job creation or punishing non-expansion states such as Kansas.
“I want America to be a place in which elected officials are more respected than they are today, and one of the ways to do that is to never walk away from people,” Moran said as a rationale for his town hall circuit. Moran is one of three Republican senators that held town hall meetings during the holiday congressional recess.
Moran described himself as a “supporter of rural America,” adding that the absence of health care diminishes the longevity of many places rural Americans call home.
“If you care about rural communities and the people who live there, you have to care about whether or not health care will be around,” Moran said.
Moran explained that there is a definite line for him between repealing the ACA and cutting Medicaid, the two of which he said have little to do with each other. While he said he is a critic of the ACA, he added that he does not believe in cutting Medicaid or punishing states such as Kansas that refrained from expanding their Medicaid program.
“My belief is that our health care providers are hanging on by a thread in many instances, and anything that reduces one more opportunity for revenue and income increases the chances that health care will not be available to folks who live in rural America, so I am very concerned, opposed to the changes that are being suggested,” Moran said.
Moran emphasized determining a way to reduce the cost of health care, as opposed to figuring out how to pay for more expensive health care.
“If you have expensive health care, you’re going to have expensive health insurance, and fewer people are going to have coverage,” Moran said.
Moran noted that “most people” who previously visited with him complained about the ACA. He said, “It’s slightly different today.”
He emphasized the importance in preserving coverage for preexisting conditions under any prospective plan. Moran suggested that everyone has a preexisting condition, and that excluding those with preexisting conditions would crack the door to potentially excluding anyone from health-care coverage.
Moran outlined his criticism of the ACA, explaining that he feels the premiums aren’t affordable enough while co-payments and deductibles remain too high. He said the ACA also creates economic issues that limit the growth and expansion of businesses by imposing a mandatory coverage threshold on employers after they hire more than 50 people, negating the benefits of their forfeited “small business” status.
One southwest Kansas resident, Lynn Kinsey, 47, emphasized her belief in the importance of a single-payer system, under which all residents of the United States would be covered by the government for all medically necessary services.
“Why are you not stepping back and saying: We need single-payer health care. We need to make health care not a commodity in this country anymore’?” Kinsey asked. “Every other developed country can do that in this world. Why can’t America?”
Kinsey called the status of health care in the United States “a moral problem,” to which Moran responded, “I agree.”
There are 58 countries that offer universal health care, including but not limited to: Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, Israel, Mongolia, Singapore, Austria, Belarus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Australia and New Zealand.
Moran said restricting health care coverage to a singular model would be a disincentive for people entering the medical profession and hurt the United States.
“That doesn’t happen,” Kinsey said, explaining that she previously lived in Germany for six years. “It doesn’t happen in Canada. It doesn’t happen in Germany. … If I needed to go to a doctor, I went to a doctor of my choice. If I had to go to a hospital, I went to a hospital of my choice. … The money, the taxes that I paid went directly to cover my health care. I didn’t have to worry about insurance companies trying to get their profits or their cut. They were insignificant.”
Moran ended the town hall meeting after an hour as he prepared to head to Liberal for the final round. He concluded his appearance in Sublette by encouraging attendees to remain politically active.
“It’s more discouraging to me when somebody doesn’t visit with me than when somebody does and complains, because what that means is they’ve given up,” he said. “The people who come to town hall meetings today haven’t given up. That’s a good thing for our country and we’ve got to figure out how to harness us all working in the same direction, pulling the wagon right way.”