Candace Stoughton lost her job last week, and her health insurance coverage will end Tuesday. She’s had to quickly become an expert on Medicare and the federal Affordable Care Act as she seeks a new policy.
“It’s so very stress-inducing to be shifted from one health care system from one week to another the next week,” said Stoughton, who worked in health care. “If they repeal the Affordable Care Act, I will basically be operating without insurance.
“When you are 20-whatever, that’s one thing,” she said, “but when you are almost 50, that’s another. I’m still relatively healthy, but anything can happen.”
Stoughton was among about 300 people who gathered Saturday at the south-side Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Fe/Del Norte for a town hall discussion with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján about the ramifications of a health law repeal or overhaul: higher premiums and deductibles, more “out-of-pocket” expenses and a reliance on what Luján called “lemon” insurance policies.
A repeal also would put about 20 million Americans at risk of losing their insurance, including 14.5 million covered under expanded Medicaid eligibility rules. About 300,000 of those new Medicaid patients are New Mexicans.
Saturday’s event, which attracted a spillover crowd — about half of the attendees had to listen to a broadcast outside — was the fifth town hall the New Mexico Democrat has held on the issue since the start of the year. That’s a sharp contrast from his Republican colleagues, many of whom have been skipping town halls this month to avoid encountering raucous crowds of constituents outraged over plans to dismantle “Obamacare.”
The town hall came as nearly three dozen advocacy and health care organizations and a handful of medical professionals sent a joint letter to Gov. Susana Martinez, urging her to reject a reported plan for Medicaid changes and federal funding caps as part of the health law overhaul.
“We urge you to protect the health care of our people and not agree to any plan that reduces federal support for our most vulnerable people,” says the letter, signed by AARP, nurses and public workers unions, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the New Mexico Coalition to end Homelessness, Tewa Women United and New Mexico Voices for Children, among other groups.
Luján’s event also came a day after more than 200 people protested Friday outside Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce’s office in Las Cruces, saying Pearce has eschewed public events, according to a report in the Las Cruces Sun-News. Protesters complained that they had trouble accessing “telephone town halls” he has held, saying those chosen to participate in the calls were overwhelmingly supporters.
A spokeswoman for Pearce told the Sun-News he was on an overseas tour of 10 countries as part of his work as chairman of a House subcommittee and would plan in-person events when he returns.
People protesting Republican health law changes and recent actions by the Trump administration, such as a sweeping crackdown on undocumented immigrants, have recently converged on town halls held by GOP Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Diane Black of Tennessee, Buddy Carter of Georgia, Dennis Ross of Florida and others.
Ross ended his event early and slipped out a back door to chants of “Do your job!”
Many GOP lawmakers, like Pearce, are now opting, instead, to hold smaller gatherings, Facebook chats and phone events.
The tone at Luján’s event Saturday was more fear than outrage. People spoke about the many uncertainties they face: extra costs for ambulance service, a lack of preventive care for patients with drug addictions, financial cuts to Planned Parenthood, the consequences of being too sick to work or care for family members.
Others said they were concerned about a new GOP plan to eliminate the mandate for insurers to cover patients with pre-existing medical conditions. The plan would shift the cost burden to states’ high-risk insurance pools. It comes a week after the Martinez administration proposed legislation that would reduce tax credits and subsidies for New Mexico residents in the high-risk insurance pool, a coverage plan for the chronically ill and some immigrants who are living in the country illegally.
One woman, who identified herself as a nurse in Española, said many immigrants are afraid to seek health care because they’re afraid they will be deported.
A man in crowd said Republicans are “ducking” town halls because they don’t want to handle tough questions on health care.
One of the toughest questions the crowd asked Luján: What can they do to stop any changes to the Affordable Care Act?
“I think you are preaching to the choir,” one man told Luján. But, he said, “We don’t have the power to save this plan.”
Luján said it is up to the American people to prove they have power. “Public sentiment and public opinion do matter,” he said. “We are seeing thousands of Americans across America asking questions of their representatives.”
One thing Americans can do, he said, is demand that Republicans show them their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. So far, he said, he hasn’t seen one. They can also hold President Donald Trump accountable for his campaign promises, such as protecting Medicare, he said.
Luján urged the crowd not to lose hope because Democrats are the minority party in Washington, D.C.
“We have to keep pushing, and we can’t be discouraged,” he said.
Stoughton said she was glad she attended the town hall because she discovered that she can take advantage of a 90-day waiting period before signing up for the Affordable Care Act — assuming that provision doesn’t change under the Trump administration.
Even so, she said, that’s a risk.
“If I choose to go without health care for 90 days, and I get into a car accident during that time, that wouldn’t be good.”