Last Friday evening I was one of 180 lucky winners of a lottery ticket to attend the long-anticipated town hall forum with U.S. Congressman Tom Garrett at UVA — his first face-to-face meeting with us, his 5th District constituents. Mr. Garrett was a big draw; 860 people had applied for the lottery. The room was filled to capacity at 230. From inside, we could hear the shouts of dozens of protesters outside the doors.
Mr. Garrett answered questions in his signature rapid-fire diction for two-and-a-half hours. We each had submitted a question, to be picked according to subject. After his response, the questioners could then stand and pose a follow-up.
I’d prepared a number of questions for Garrett on topics like his attack on the gun control laws of the District of Columbia, on President Trump’s recent attack on him and the Freedom Caucus, on global warming, and this one on healthcare:
“As a member of the House Freedom Caucus, you said you would vote ‘no’ on Trumpcare. Thank you. It was a terrible bill. Today 411,000 Virginians depend on the Affordable Care Act for their health coverage — almost 800 of them in my county of Rappahannock. Many of my neighbors have affordable health insurance for the first time in their lives and are terrified of losing it. Now that the ACA is the law of the land, will you work to fix it to ensure that they can stay healthy?”
Mr. Garrett began his answer by saying that he wants everyone to have health coverage. So that sounds good. Then he parsed the distinction between health coverage and health care, and decried the rising premiums and deductibles of some health plans. He prefers a plan where you can cherry-pick essential health services, which was the deal-breaker that the Freedom Caucus had demanded for Trumpcare. Also he’s working to allow insurance companies to sell health plans across state lines. He did not mention that both ideas are unsustainable in open insurance markets. Or that letting the ACA collapse without a replacement would kick 24 million people off their health insurance.
In short, his answer was no.
How did the audience react? One person observed that you can’t know in advance which essential coverage you need. And that “the distinction between health coverage and health care is obliterated if you don’t have insurance to begin with.”
At last the crowd had heard some sense, and erupted in cheers.