July 13, 2017
[The following is a guest editorial in Penn Live by our Tuesdays with Toomey Harrisburg colleague Alissa Packer. For the Penn Live article about Toomey's "town hall," click here.]
Earlier this month, I was one of eight audience members in the ABC27 studio with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey during his televised appearance interacting with constituents.
To be clear, in no way was I under any illusion that this was a proper town hall--a town hall where all constituents have an equal opportunity to gain access to their elected representative. Instead, it was a highly controlled, media appearance with constituents. However, Sen. Toomey would at least be able to see the faces of his constituents as he answered their questions.
I considered declining the invitation, but ultimately decided to use this opportunity to ask the senator answer a fairly simple question:
"How does the senate healthcare bill (known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act) help Pennsylvanians access higher quality, more affordable health insurance, or lower the cost of our medical care and prescription drugs?"
In asking my question, I cited concerns raised in the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score of the bill. The CBO estimates that if this bill is passed 22 million fewer people will be insured and drastic cuts to Medicaid will occur over the next decade, while the top 2 percent of earners would receive billions in tax cuts as a result of the repeal of a tax on investment income.
Instead of answering my question, Toomey merely deflected it by questioning the accuracy of the score generated by the CBO. He did so by attempting to discredit one of the highly qualified health analysts who helped produce the report.
Toomey did not cite one single example of how the bill will lead to better, less expensive insurance, or lower the cost of medical care and prescription drugs.
If this had been an actual town hall meeting, other constituents would have undoubtedly pressed the senator on this point. The in-studio host did not, and I regret not doing so myself.
So the question remains, Sen. Toomey--exactly how does this bill help Pennsylvanians access higher quality, more affordable health insurance, or lower the cost of medical care and prescription drugs?
And a follow up question or two in response to your efforts to discredit the CBO score: What have you decided is an acceptable threshold for how many fewer people will be insured? If only 12 million rather than 22 million fewer people are insured in 2026, is that still not deeply immoral? When those uninsured Pennsylvanians go to the emergency room to seek care and can't afford to pay for it, does that not cause all of our premiums to increase as those unpaid expenses affect the price of health care, and therefore impact our insurance premiums?
If he were to answer honestly, Sen. Toomey would admit that we all bear the burden of healthcare for the uninsured in our premium costs. It is better for ALL OF US if everyone has access to health care so that health problems are treated before they become medical emergencies.
Sen. Toomey, exactly how does this health care bill help PA?