The day after House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which seeks to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, probably wasn't the easiest time to host a town hall meeting. Yet, on Friday, Republican House Freedom Caucus member Raúl Labrador met with his Idaho constituents, who had a lot to ask and even more to say. After one particular comment, Rep. Labrador's response regarding the AHCA was cringeworthy.
In response to the AHCA's proposed Medicaid spending cuts, a constituent at Labrador's town hall meeting in Lewiston, Idaho, reportedly told Labrador, "You are mandating people on Medicaid to accept dying." The congressman, of course, rebutted her claim, but with some troubling words of his own.
That line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care.
In fact, people may very well die because of a lack of health care — and even because of a lack of health care coverage. According to a 2009 study conducted at Harvard Medical School, some 45,000 deaths are linked to a lack of health insurance every year. Various studies have attempted to calculate the human-life cost of repealing the Affordable Care Act, and to be fair, many of the calculations have been called into question. But even Labrador knew that his answer to a concerned constituent "wasn't very elegant."
Labrador's follow-up statement was published on his official Facebook page on Saturday. "During 10 hours of town halls, one of my answers about health care wasn't very elegant," he wrote. "I was responding to a false notion that the Republican health care plan will cause people to die in the streets, which I completely reject."
The incident in Idaho is just one example of Republicans' attempts to save face with the health care bill passed in the House last week. The AHCA narrowly passed on Thursday, and Republicans have been criticized for rushing it through a vote before the Congressional Budget Office could evaluate its potential costs and impacts. For instance, a North Carolina representative defended the AHCA by reminding people they can move to whatever state they want if coverage is too expensive in their state.
On Sunday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, formerly a Republican member of the House, defended the AHCA's treatment of pre-existing conditions during an interview with Meet the Press. Under the AHCA, states could obtain waivers that allow insurance companies to charge more for coverage to people with certain pre-existing conditions; Price assured viewers that "those who are sicker, who are older, who are poorer — they will get larger subsidies" to help mitigate any price increases. But while it's true that the AHCA would encourage subsidies for these people, concern remains that the money set aside for subsidies may not be enough.
In other words, Labrador is far from alone in his challenge to defend the House's AHCA. At the same time, though, the constituent that challenged him is also not alone. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans must now pick up the torch and pass their own health care plan, meaning there's very much an uphill battle ahead.