U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, got through one slide in his presentation about the American Health Care Act, the Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, before the crowd started speaking out.
Barr was at Eastern Kentucky University Saturday morning for a “coffee with constituents” town hall, which he hosts periodically throughout the 6th Congressional District. The crowd, fueled by a wave of political backlash against President Donald Trump, wasn’t happy.
“You deserve the truth,” Barr said after one round of boos. “This is the truth.”
The GOP health care proposal has strong critics from the left and the far right, including junior Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, but Barr is an active supporter of the bill and stuck to Republican talking points on the issue.
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“I’m not going to vote no on something that’s better than the status quo,” Barr said when asked if he would vote against the bill. “I’m going to vote yes enthusiastically.”
Barr said the bill will lower health insurance costs for many, provide people with more choices and will eliminate a government mandate to buy insurance.
“We don’t believe that the government should coerce you into a plan that you don’t need,” Barr said.
He said the bill keeps some popular elements of Obamacare, which he called a disaster, such as ensuring coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parent’s insurance plans until they turn 26.
Plus, Barr said, the bill would reduce the federal deficit and would cut taxes by $600 billion.
The audience wasn’t buying it.
They cited a report issued by the Congressional Budget Office that said about 24 million people would lose health coverage, either in the private marketplace or through Medicaid, under the Republican proposal. They also cited studies that showed the bill would significantly raise health care costs for older and low-income Americans.
Barr criticized the CBO, which is non-partisan, saying it made inaccurate predictions about Obamacare and that it didn’t consider all three phases of the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
When one constituent asked about her son, who received Medicaid coverage after eligibility requirements were expanded under the federral health law, Barr said people who are covered through Medicaid would be grandfathered into the new law.
“If your son is currently enrolled in Medicaid, he won’t be taken off,” Barr said.
That is true, but many Medicaid recipients have incomes that vary from year to year and could potentially lose coverage if they take a job that doesn’t last long.
In addition to health care, the audience peppered Barr with questions about a variety of other policy changes being pursued by the Trump Administration.
One constituent asked Barr about his stance on global warming.
Barr said he knows it’s happening but that there’s no scientific consensus over whether it’s caused by humans (“there is,” an environmental scientist in the audience responded) and that he doesn’t think regulations are the right way to address the problem.
They also asked Barr about Trump’s newly-released budget proposal, which would pay for increased defense spending and a U.S.-Mexico wall by cutting funding for dozens of agencies, including the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“I think it’s helpful in the budget process to have the president submit his priorities,” Barr told reporters after the event. “But Congress ultimately has the power of the purse and that’s the way the founding fathers wanted it.”
Barr said he didn’t like Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission and that he thinks KET, which would see its funding cut under Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, provides a valuable service and should continue to be funded.
There were moments when the crowd praised Barr, such as when he condemned hate crimes against Muslims. But he quickly lost that support when he used the question to talk about terrorism.
“Some of you agree with what I’m doing in Washington,” Barr said. “A lot of you do.”
“No,” some in the audience responded.