Healthcare dominated a recent town hall-style meeting with U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in Shelton, with many speakers criticizing the new Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“No one wants it,” said a Shelton resident, claiming just as many people have lost their health insurance as have signed up for coverage under the ACA, better known as Obamacare.
Another Shelton resident said Obamacare has led to higher premiums and deductibles for the self-insured, impacting many as they near their golden years. “It’s neither affordable nor responsible,” he said.
One said it’s yet another entitlement program that’s essentially “a Ponzi scheme,” while someone else referred to it as the “Unaffordable Care Act.”
“The entire healthcare system was upended,” complained a constituent, who demanded Himes resign from office for allegedly misleading the public on the legislation.
Himes: Good and bad to healthcare law
Himes, who supported the ACA, defended the new system but admitted there were problems that need to be worked out.
“It’s done some good things — and had some difficulties,” said Himes, a three-term Democrat whose district includes most of Shelton.
Due to the ACA, he said, people with preconditions now can’t be turned down for health insurance, and children can stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
It’s covering up to 15 million people who were previously uninsured, he said, and by holding down healthcare “inflation” it will fiscally benefit state and local governments, among others.
But Himes also said the law has “caused turmoil” for doctors and hospitals, and presented challenges for people who had bought insurance on their own and not through an employer.
The ACA is dependent on getting enough young healthy people to sign up for coverage, he said, and the program’s future is at risk if that doesn’t happen.
He said his goal is “to look at what is working and try to fix that, and move forward.”
ACA supporters there, too
Obamacare had a smaller number of defenders at the meeting, including a small-business woman who said it is slowing down employee health insurance rate increases.
The father of an adult son with a mental illness said his son’s premiums are down 95% due to Obamacare.
One person said the ACA will cut down on personal financial problems caused by big medical bills, such as foreclosures and bankruptcies.
“All we read and hear are the bad things about the ACA,” said a speaker. “Let’s give it a chance.”
Himes, when asked by an ACA opponent about President Obama making unilateral adjustments to the law, said he feels “uneasy about it.” He said a president has some discretion in how laws are implemented, “but he doesn’t have infinite room.”
Obama, like Himes, is a Democrat.
Economy improving, but not fast enough
About 60 people attended the meeting in the Shelton City Hall auditorium, with about 20 of them asking questions.
Himes opened with remarks that focused on the economy, energy and other issues.
The country is continuing to recover from “an economic collapse” unlike any other in people’s lifetimes, he said, with real estate on the mend, manufacturing jobs coming back, and annual budget deficits getting lower.
But the recovery is “happening far too slowly,” he said, noting many people in their 50s and 60s have lost jobs and too many recent college graduates can’t find good jobs.
Infrastructure investments and energy
Himes wants the government to invest in infrastructure projects to create new jobs. He also supports a $10.10-an-hour minimum wage.
He is upbeat about the country’s ability to attain energy independence, saying this means the United States won’t have to “kowtow” to oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
“I remain an optimist,” he said of the future.
Debt and deficits
A Shelton resident said he’s concerned the growing national debt — now more than $17 trillion — will lead to an economic collapse worse than the last recession. He said recent policies in Washington have benefited Wall Street and not Main Street.
Himes responded that he’s voted for spending cuts and tax hikes on high wage-earners to lower the annual deficit, and it’s important to keep on that “trajectory.” He said with an aging population, the federal government must tackle entitlement reform.
A Shelton resident said the Fed’s low interest rate policy had “devastated seniors,” leading to those who save money “subsidizing borrowers and the stock market.”
In response, Himes said the Fed operates independently of Congress. He agreed low rates have been “brutal” on seniors living on fixed incomes.