Constituents hit U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner with questions about health care right out of the gate during a telephone town hall Wednesday evening and returned to the issue again and again. Gardner reiterated his support for repeal of the Affordable Care Act but stopped short of endorsing the Republican proposal currently being debated in the House.
“I’m reading this and talking to people back … and trying to get a real handle on how this will be an improvement to the current system,” he said of the House bill.
Gardner said that regardless of who was elected in November or who controlled the Senate, “we would be here today discussing a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. … We see a lot of unintended consequences across Colorado and across the country. Obviously, there are people who have benefitted and that’s something we have to take seriously.”
Gardner said he feels “the Medicaid transition” has to be “done properly” without getting into the details of the current bill, which keeps the Medicaid expansion through the end of 2019 and then freezes it. The bill also replaces the current Medicaid program, which requires government to cover all the health care costs of enrolled people, with a per-capita cap.
“We have to have something better than we have today, and that’s the goal of every Republican in Congress,” he said.
Gardner acknowledged that what was the situation before the Affordable Care Act “wasn’t working” and described dealing with rapidly rising premiums as a small business owner that prevented him from hiring more people or investing in new technology.
But he challenged the idea that the expansion of coverage under the ACA had made health care more accessible. Some people who make too much money to get federal subsidies face high premiums and high deductibles.
“You mentioned that a lot of people have coverage,” he said to one questioner. “Coverage is not the same as being able to go in and see the doctor.”
“We continue to engage in this discussion to get it right for the American people,” he added.
Not all the questions were about the ACA.
Ron in Steamboat Springs asked Gardner if we would go for the “nuclear option” and get rid of the filibuster if that’s what’s necessary to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch — with a long preamble criticizing Gardner for not supporting a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee for that seat, Merrick Garland.
“I think it’s important that we have a justice that can receive support from both parties,” Gardner said, then added that he expected Gorsuch to receive Democratic support. “I believe Judge Gorsuch will not even face the question of a filibuster.”
Mack in Longmont raised concerns about President Donald Trump’s tweets accusing Obama of illegally wiretapping him, a claim for which he hasn’t produced evidence, and Trump’s overall emotional and mental stability, given that he controls the country’s nuclear arsenal.
Cutting to the chase, he asked: “Do you think this guy’s nuts? Everything in the news makes it seems like he is.”
“I’ll leave the diagnosis to the medical professionals,” Gardner responded after talking about how important it is that the United States has a separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches to provide checks and balances.
Mary in Denver asked why Colorado has a law that allows the use of marijuana when federal law prohibits it.
“This is a very challenging issue of federalism. … Colorado is deep in the heart of the laboratory when it comes to states’ rights,” Gardner said.
Gardner has introduced legislation to deal with banking issues around marijuana: “It’s something that Congress does need to resolve.”
Rebecca asked about extensive connections between Russia and the president and high-placed members of his administration.
“It’s really looking fishy what is going on in the government, and I’m scared to death,” she said. “… Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, but what if it does?”
Gardner said he looks forward to the conclusion of investigations into Russian interference in the election and Russian communications with the administration before and after Trump took office.
Kelly in Boulder asked Gardner for more opportunities to meet with him in-person.
“It’s hard to get follow-up questions and have a conversation in this manner,” she said of the tele-town hall. “Would you be willing to meet in some sort of regular environment with small groups of constituents if they agree to follow certain ground rules?”
Gardner said he meets with constituents all the time and will continue to do so. He mentioned meetings with advocacy groups and local organizations, as well as with people who have protested outside his office.
“It’s important that we do this,” Gardner said. “We’ve met with protesters. The office has met with protesters. … We’ve taken great strides to make sure we’re across all four corners of Colorado. We’ll give you a holler and make sure we keep meeting with constituents all over the state.”
Lisa in Durango talked about how important access to reproductive health care is and underscored that abortion is legal, regardless of anyone’s personal views on the practice. The Republican health care bill removes all federal funding from Planned Parenthood and seeks to re-allocate that money to “federally qualified health care centers.” Federal funding cannot be used to pay for abortion, but Planned Parenthood gets funding to cover family planning and other health care services it provides.
Lisa asked Gardner: “Will you stand up for us?”
Gardner responded, “I’m pro-life.”
“I think the most important things I can do in the United States Congress is focusing on growing the economy, energy issues, and not focusing on social issues,” he added.
Twice in the call, Gardner said that women won’t lose health care if Planned Parenthood is denied funding because they can seek care at these other federally qualified health centers.
Back in 2015, when this idea was first proposed, Rewire, an online site that covers reproductive health issues from a pro-choice perspective, called and emailed hundreds of these centers trying to schedule a breast exam. They found that many of the centers were in schools and other locations that don’t serve the general public, including jails. Others served the homeless population exclusively.
“You called an elementary school,” a receptionist at the Heritage Hill School in Springdale, Ohio, said.
“To women?” asked a receptionist at the Delhi Charter School in Delhi, Louisiana. “No ma’am, we just do the children here that go to this school.”
Other federally qualified health centers don’t provide contraception for religious reasons, Rewire reported.
Nick in Pueblo described long waits not only to see a doctor at a Veterans Affairs clinic but even to get clearance to see a private doctor outside the VA system, a process that was supposed to get easier under the Veterans Choice Act, after suffering a traumatic brain injury in the military.
“I’ve been in the ER three times this year. I’ve had to miss out on my final semester of college. … This is just kind of hard for us,” he said.
Gardner thanked Nick profusely for his service and said his office would call Nick to learn more about his problems with the VA. He made a similar offer earlier in the call to a woman who had seen medication she takes every six months to keep her multiple sclerosis in check increase in price from $25,000 a dose to $100,000 a dose.
“I want to make sure we have a Veterans Choice Act that works,” he said. “… We know the VA had significant problems in setting it up. They weren’t paying the private providers, and then those private providers are not seeing patients because they were not getting paid.”