President shook finger in 5th district congressman’s face
Uncertainty persists for Rappahannock Obamacare subscribers
Yes, Rep. Tom Garrett, the Virginia Republican representing Rappahannock County, is doubling down on Obamacare. But that’s not to say he’s marching in lockstep with President Donald Trump.
“The first time I ever set foot in the Oval Office I got yelled at,” Garrett tells the Rappahannock News. “When [former White House strategist] Steve Bannon left the other day I was on the air . . . and [the anchor] said, ‘Breaking news, Bannon’s leaving! Do you have a comment?’
“I said the only time I ever met Steve Bannon he yelled at me, so I promise I won’t shed a tear.”
The freshman congressman’s official visit to the White House actually got worse.
“And then the president shook his finger in my face and said get on board, we need to do something,” Garrett reveals. “And I said, ‘We absolutely do — this ain’t it!’”
And it wasn’t.
Senate Republicans, as it turned out, could not win passage of their so-called “Skinny Repeal” bill — having previously failed miserably at passing a more comprehensive plan — to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Had it passed, Garrett and his fellow lawmakers in the House were prepared to take a stab at finalizing a mutually agreeable bill. But Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican recently stricken with a brain tumor, made certain that didn’t happen, giving thumbs down to his party’s president and Senate leadership.
“The guy’s given his life to serve this country. His entire life,” Garrett replies when asked about McCain, each of them a military veteran. “He’s worthy of praise for sure.”
As Garrett explains it: “This skinny repeal that almost passed the Senate — where you would withdraw the individual mandate and the employer mandate — I couldn’t fathom to make it worse. But what happens when you withdraw those two things without addressing community rating, without addressing essential benefits, is all the healthy young people leave the pool and the prices go up more. And these clowns are thinking this is going to be a win?
“We’re here not to score political victories but to help people,” he says.
With affordable healthcare, in other words?
“That’s the only thing I’ll vote for,” he pledges.
The big question for many Rappahannock County residents is what affordable plans would even be available in the absence of the ACA.
The Republican majority’s unsuccessful American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 “had no data support that it would drive down the premiums and deductibles,” Garrett points out.
“Number 1, when the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] says 23 million people will be kicked off their plans or lose their coverage. Well, in a world where 54 percent of Americans, according to the New York Times, don’t have $500 in case of a financial crisis, and the average deductible for a family of four is in the $5,000 range, coverage isn’t equal to care. Look, we need to have a safety net because this is America and you shouldn’t be this prosperous and have people slip into the cracks . . .
“But let’s not conflate coverage with care. If you can’t afford your deductible but you have coverage it’s a piece of paper. We have to drive the cost down. And what I think we did with the second AHCA is when you syllogize the high risk pool and then you subsidize the coverage of those folks, then you pull out the cost drivers from the population at large, and that’s why the cost would have gone down.
“The second thing is nobody is getting kicked off a plan when they’re on the plan because of an individual mandate. I went four years without healthcare by choice because I was the father of two young children and in graduate school having served in the Army for six years. I was healthy. And I knew that if something catastrophic happened I could go to the VA center because I was a veteran. Now this is me making a choice.
“We live in a country where depending upon where you are you can hire a prostitute, buy a bag of marijuana, or go bungee jumping. But a 70-year-old man can’t have a policy that doesn’t include maternity coverage,” he says. “So I’m one of 535 in two chambers of one branch. But I ain’t voting for anything unless based on our in-depth analysis it will drive down cost.”
In the meantime, there is a more pressing problem for ACA plan holders, hundreds of whom live in Rappahannock County.
Earlier this month, Anthem Healthkeepers, which sells Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in 14 states, announced that because of uncertainty within the Trump administration it will be discontinuing individual ACA health plans in Virginia in 2018.
“Unfortunately, uncertainty in the health insurance market does not provide the clarity and confidence we need to offer affordable coverage to our members in 2018,” the insurer wrote to those assisted through Obamacare.
As open enrollment for 2018 gets closer, Anthem said it would assist its policyholders in securing other plans, even if outside Healthkeepers. What specific coverage those plans might entail — and the cost — is everybody’s guess and concern, Garrett’s included.
He had no direct answer when asked by a specific business owner in Sperryville and restaurateur in Washington what they could expect with the loss of their Anthem policies. Anthem will pull out of the Virginia (and Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio) Obamacare market regardless of whether Republicans devise a successful ACA substitute.
For now, the Trump administration, as required under the ACA, continues to pay subsidies to low-income consumers enrolled in Obamacare — and reimburse insurance companies that provide the coverage. For how much longer remains to be seen.