STANTON — Constituents of Michigan’s 4th District braved the icy roads Tuesday to tell their Congressman what scares them even more: Repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without knowing replacement details.
Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, met with more than a dozen constituents for an hour at Montcalm County’s Administrative Building, where the ACA — or “Obamacare” — was the pressing concern.
Last Friday, Moolenaar voted in support of a resolution that would take Congress one step closer to repealing the ACA. This Friday, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the nation’s 45th president.
But details about what will replace the repealed ACA remain unknown, and the uncertainty has some people worried.
Moolenaar tried to reassure constituents about the unknown, saying that multiple bills will be required to gradually phase in a replacement. He said Republican goals for the replacement include coverage of pre-existing conditions, allowing children to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and providing the option to purchase insurance over state lines.
“Obamacare is failing, it’s collapsing of its own weight,” he said. “In some states like Arizona you have premiums increasing by over 100 percent. Healthcare providers are getting out of the market so people don’t have as much access. Over the next couple of years, you’ll have the repeal completed and the (replacement) plan in place. One won’t happen without the other.”
Mary Walrath braved the roads to drive from Lansing to Stanton to speak with her Congressman. She voiced concerns about the cost of the repeal and replacement process, as well as the possibility of millions of people losing health care, especially senior citizens.
Walrath said she worked full-time more than 30 years as a single mother, always living paycheck to paycheck.
“When I retired, I had maybe $40,000 in savings that I was able to save over all that time,” she said. “And it’s all gone now, I’m living on Social Security and my pension and I’m barely making it. I feel very threatened with the rising costs of Medicare and the idea of privatizing Social Security.
“What if I live to be 100?” she asked. “I’m going to lose my home. I have no savings. I just don’t want to die.”
“Medicare, if we continue on the path we are on, will be bankrupt,” Moolenaar replied. “We need to make repairs to Medicare and make the program solvent. If we make reforms for people my age and younger, we can preserve it for future generations. I understand the concern. I think it’s important that we look at things like how do we reduce the cost of healthcare? One of the things Obamacare did was put more spending but it didn’t take away the cost.”
“As long as you have insurance making big profits, that’s going to drive up the cost,” Walrath responded.
“And the best thing to prevent that is competition so insurers are competing for your business,” Moolenaar answered. “There’s (currently) no incentive to keep prices down. I would certainly prefer a system where you have people competing for the business rather than a government system. We want to have a better system, a system that is sustainable and really meets people’s needs. We have a system that’s broken and our goal is to have a system that is more affordable and meaningful.”
Anthony Nagy of Carson City offered a unique perspective. Nagy was born in the United States, but his father was Hungarian and Nagy spent a decade of his childhood in central Europe, which he described as an overwhelmingly socialist atmosphere.
“I lived it,” he said. “I don’t want to have anybody grow up under socialism. I want to be able to shop around (for health insurance).”
Education and jobs
Cindy Shick, the director of adult education at Central Montcalm Public School, shared her concerns with Moolenaar about Montcalm County residents who want to be employed but struggle to make their way through the red tape of educational requirements.
“I’ve worked with almost every teacher in the district for the past 20 years,” she said. “They are working hard, they are doing their best, but they have a lot of federal mandates and hoops to jump through and kids get lost.”
Shick credited Gov. Rick Snyder’s prosperity region initiative, which she said has helped her communicate with neighboring educators and find resources for students, but it’s not enough.
“Montcalm County is just as needy as Detroit,” she said. “We might not have as many people, but we have the poverty just like Detroit. Montcalm County needs a recovery. We kind of have this cycle going right now. We need job opportunities. Some of these jobs come and open up, but some of our workers aren’t ready. And our students who go to college, they end up working jobs outside of Michigan.”
Kenneth Lehman, president and CEO of Big L Lumber, interjected his own observations as a business owner.
“I’m an employer and I cannot find an employee,” he said. “I spent three weeks up at the high school trying to hire five kids and I couldn’t find one kid to come to work.”
“We need funding to be able to make those programs happen,” Shick responded. “These kids need tech training, problem-solving. Pushing them through algebra 2 and trigonometry isn’t really preparing them. That’s like pushing a square peg into a round hole.”
Moolenaar suggested creating a task force to help with education and employment concerns in Montcalm County, with the help of Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Jim Lower, R-Cedar Lake, along with area employers such as Lehman, who agreed to participate.
“The economy here, you’re looking for jobs and you have jobs to offer,” Moolenaar said. “I think you have all the tools in place to make this happen, but if there are things on the federal level we can do to make this more streamlined, we would like to help.”