The Republican health care bill that cleared the House of Representatives last week could be improved, but is intended to address the high cost of medical care and of health insurance under the current system, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said Monday evening.
Answering questions from an audience of 100 at a forum hosted by Mountain Lake PBS-TV in Plattsburgh, the second-term congresswoman discussed her vote last Thursday to support the American Health Care Act, the House Republicans' controversial plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
But the 32-year-old Stefanik, still the youngest member of Congress, also made clear that she has significant disagreements with President Donald Trump on such issues as climate change, his proposed travel ban and whether Trump should release his income tax returns.
"I have a very independent voting record," she said. "I have reached across the aisle and I look forward to doing that going forward, with health care, working with the senators and trying to improve the bill."
Stefanik, whose district stretches from Fulton and Saratoga counties to the Canadian border, didn't announce until the last minute that she would support the AHCA, under which around 24 million Americans would lose their insurance coverage. The bill has also been criticized for its Medicaid cuts, for giving states the option to drop benefits that insurance is now required to offer and for providing tax cuts to the wealthy.
"We deserve to have better health care," she said. "As we've seen prices increase in the [insurance] exchanges, that's a concern to me. That insurers are leaving the exchanges, that's a concern to me. I think that people should have the same flexibility as small businesses. ... I've seen what's working and not working, with reduced coverage and higher deductibles."
The bill, supported by Trump, passed by a 217-213 margin. Leaders in the U.S. Senate have said they anticipate writing their own health care reform bill, which would then need to be reconciled with the House bill.
Questioned repeatedly about the Medicaid provisions that would cut funding for Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and give states the option of dropping it, Stefanik said it's an option she doesn't expect New York to take.
Stefanik said she opposes a single-payer health care system because complaints from veterans about Veterans Administration health care coverage are among the most common issues her office deals with.
With the controversial vote fresh in the public's mind, Stefanik has come under criticism, and the audience in Plattsburgh applauded at questions that were critical of the Republican legislation.
Save My Care, a liberal health care advocacy group, has included Stefanik in about 24 Republican members of Congress targeted for more than $500,000 in television advertising criticizing their vote for the bill. The ad campaign also targets 19th Congressional District U.S. Rep. John J. Faso, R-Kinderhook, who supported the bill.
All those targeted by the 30-second ads are in districts that Democrats believe they have a chance of recapturing in 2018.
Patrick Nelson of Stillwater, a supporter of a single-payer health care system who is running against Stefanik as a Democrat, was among those protesting outside the studio, where nearly 200 people wore black to mark their displeasure with her vote for the AHCA.
The PBS forum was the most prominent appearance made recently by Stefanik, who has not held the large-venue town hall meetings at which some Republican members of Congress have ended up in rowdy shouting matches over the legislation. She noted, however, that she has held 15 small "Coffee with Your Congresswoman" events -- including one two weeks ago in Johnstown.
On non-health care issues Stefanik said:
- She opposes Trump's proposed federal budget, with its deep cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which deals with acid rain issues. "I am an advocate for wind and solar and also for biomass, which has great potential in our district," she said.
- She said she releases her income tax returns and believes Trump should do the same.
- She disagrees with the president's plan for a "border wall" with Mexico, which was one of Trump's core campaign promises. " I think it's not going to happen that Mexico will pay for the wall. I disagree with the president on that. That's not realistic," she said.
The audience was selected by lottery from among about 300 people who applied through Stefanik's office to be on hand for the taping.
The forum was live-streamed on the internet Monday evening and will be broadcast in a one-hour format by Mountain Lake PBS at 9 p.m. Tuesday (tonight).