PALCO — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran held his opposition Thursday to the current version of a Senate proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, appearing in front of a crowd of more than 100 constituents in Western Kansas.
Moran told the crowd he would evaluate any proposed health care bills based on whether they made premiums more affordable, protected those with pre-existing conditions, protected rural health care and paid Medicaid providers adequately without inhibiting job creation or punishing Kansas for not expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This version, he said, doesn’t live up to those conditions.
The Republican senator took questions from a crowd about one-third the size of Palco, a small town about 40 miles northwest of Hays, where he held his second town hall in recent weeks. Crowd members asked almost exclusively about his opposition to the Senate’s health care proposal. Many said they hoped he would continue to oppose the bill.
Moran said last week that the bill “missed the mark” for Kansans after the Senate delayed a vote on the plan. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that an additional 22 million Americans would be uninsured in 2026 under the bill. He said a health care bill needed to improve the lives of those who have been harmed by the Affordable Care Act while still benefiting those helped by it.
Mark Read, 49, of Overland Park, said he gave Moran “half credit” for coming out in opposition to the bill because he did so after the Senate delayed the vote, but he hoped Moran would maintain that opposition. Read said he and his son Robert, 12, get their coverage through the individual market under the Affordable Care Act. Read said he was denied coverage on the individual market before the ACA because of his elevated cholesterol level.
“Not a catastrophic disease by any account, but that was enough for me to be rejected from receiving health care in the individual marketplace,” Read said.
Read said he didn’t think Moran gave a firm enough position on what he would and wouldn’t support in a health care bill.
Eleanor McMindes, 86, of Hays, said she thought Moran would hold to his promise to oppose the bill.
“He definitely is going to say ‘no’ to the health care act,” McMindes said.
McMindes, said she and her husband, Jim, 84, get their insurance through Medicare and Tricare because Jim served in the Navy. She said that they have friends who struggle to afford their premiums or fear cuts to their Medicaid coverage under the bill.
According to analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, seniors who purchase insurance through the marketplace could see premiums double. Premium increases for low-income seniors would be especially steep, according to the analysis.
The bill would leave another 120,000 Kansans without health insurance in 2026, according to research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Congressional Budget Office predicted that premiums would rise. Kansas health care groups also expressed concern that provisions in the bill would drive up costs and leave people without services guaranteed under the ACA.
“That would force Kansans to choose between their life or their life’s savings in order to get the care that they need for a serious illness like cancer,” said Hilary Gee, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
Bob Cox, of Hays, was the pediatrician for Moran’s daughters. He drove from nearby Hays to advocate for more spending on health care. Cox said he and his wife, Sheryl, are Republicans, but that they rarely vote for Republicans anymore. Cox said the two voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and that he supported a single-payer health care system.
During the town hall, Cox asked Moran why the U.S. spends resources on military readiness to protect citizens from external threats while leaving health care to “a for-profit system failing to meet some needs.”
Moran didn’t discuss federal spending on defense and health, but he said Congress was focused on the wrong topic – insurance – and advocated working on bringing down the underlying costs of health care.
“Wellness, fitness, diet, nutrition, prevention is the biggest bang for our health care savings,” Moran said.
Moran stressed his support for maintaining coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, which the current Senate bill requires.
Tom Phillips, 47, of Roeland Park, however, said he was concerned that guaranteeing health insurance to those with pre-existing conditions under the Senate bill wouldn’t necessarily guarantee health care services, such as coverage for prescription drugs. The Senate bill allows states to apply to waive certain coverage areas. He said prescription drug coverage is essential for some people to managing chronic illnesses.
Moran said he was “very interested” in making sure pre-existing conditions are covered.
“I wouldn’t consider it covered if it could be taken away in some other fashion,” Moran said.
The Senate bill makes cuts to Medicaid, which David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said puts rural hospitals at risk. Several rural providers urged Kansas lawmakers to expand Medicaid earlier this year, saying they provide significant amounts of uncompensated care to those who can’t afford health insurance.
Cuts to Medicaid, Jordan said, would put those hospitals in a precarious financial situation.
“We have over 30 financially at-risk hospitals in Kansas,” Jordan said. “The Medicaid cuts are going to further harm the financial stability of our hospitals.”
Moran said he didn’t want a health care bill to harm already cash-strapped health care facilities in rural areas, but he wouldn’t say whether he would support a bill that makes cuts to Medicaid.
Discussions on the bill
Moran said he wouldn’t necessarily reject future bills if they didn’t get public hearings. He said he would support health care bills that met his criteria and would work with Republicans and Democrats on a bill. He didn’t tell reporters what he had discussed with Senate Republican leaders.
Cheryl Hofstetter Duffy, 58, an English professor at Fort State Hays University, urged Moran to look at ways to improve the ACA, rather than focusing on “repeal and replace.” Hofstetter Duffy said she suffered from breast cancer but has been cancer-free for more than a year.
Advocacy groups Planned Parenthood Great Plains Voters and Indivisible KC worked to bring attendees from across the state to the event. Other groups, such as AARP, the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas and the American Cancer Society have urged volunteers and members to tell Moran and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a fellow Kansas Republican, to reject the bill.
Moran also faced a vocal crowd last month in Lenexa. His spokeswoman Jordan Langdon said in a statement that the senator holds town halls in each of Kansas’ 105 counties during each two-year Congress.