On Thursday, May 4, Rep. John Faso voted for the Republican plan to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. The measure would strip insurance coverage for 65,800 people living in New York’s 19th Congressional District, according to an analysis by Harvard University scholar David Cutler and his colleagues.
Like others in his district, I tried calling Faso’s office prior to the vote to share my concerns about the bill, and got a recorded message saying his voicemail was. Later in the day, Rep. Sean Maloney, a Democrat representing the nearby 18th Congressional District, tweeted, “Hey @RepJohnFaso could you turn your phones on? Your #NY19 constituents are calling my office.”
It’s no surprise that Faso didn’t want to hear from us at this critical moment. During the last Congressional recess, he refused to hold town halls, saying that he felt it was more fruitful to meet with constituents in small groups. I emailed his office with several requests to participate in one of those meetings, but they all went unanswered.
I’m a freelance writer, so I buy insurance on the individual market. Before passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I would have been uninsured — priced out of the market with premiums over $700 per month. I can’t say that I love my insurance policy now, but the peace of mind I get from being covered is well worth the $450 I pay for it. That figure would be lower still if I didn’t earn just a bit too much to qualify for the ACA’s subsidies, which reduced insurance costs for 85 percent of those who bought plans through the exchanges last year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Those subsidies will be reduced by $680 billion over the next ten years if the Republican repeal bill becomes law.
I had no desire to yell at the Congressman or cause a ruckus. I just wanted an opportunity to talk to him about the legislation, and let him know how it might impact me. I wanted him to look me in the eye and explain to me why he was voting for a bill that only 17 percent of Americans support, according to a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University.
Faso said he had reviewed the legislation carefully before deciding to support it, but that’s a dubious claim as it was rushed to a vote before the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had an opportunity to analyze its impacts. The CBO said that an earlier iteration of the law would result in 24 million people losing their coverage over the next ten years, and those provisions remain. It said the law would reduce the deficit by only $15 billion per year, which is essentially a rounding error in the federal budget, while cutting taxes by four times as much, mostly for the wealthiest Americans, and that’s still the case. What’s different about this version is that it allows states to opt-out of Obamacare’s coverage rules, including the one requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. That’s around one in four Americans under the age of 65, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Freelancers like me would be hit hard by repealing the ACA, but the legislation could impact everyone who isn’t covered by Medicare or the Veteran’s Administration. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Many people who obtain health insurance through their employers — about half of the country — could be at risk of losing protections that limit out-of-pocket costs for catastrophic illnesses, due to a little-noticed provision of the House Republican health-care bill.” It would also reduce Medicaid spending by $800 billion over the next ten years. While most people think of Medicaid as a program for the poor, the Kaiser Family Foundation says that 42 percent of its spending covers non-elderly adults with disabilities. Another 42 percent helps cover senior citizens and children. The bill also defunds Planned Parenthood, which is a vital resource for millions of people. (By law, no tax dollars are used to pay for abortions.)
The question all of this raises is: who did John Faso go to Washington to represent? If he were elected to a deep red district, then perhaps his constituents would like the bill, but this is a purple one, and there’s no reason to think it’s more popular here than it is with the rest of the public. He campaigned as a New York-style moderate, like his predecessor Chris Gibson, but so far he’s voted more like a fire-breathing arch-conservative.
John Faso won’t attend town halls, his staff isn’t answering the phones and it’s not clear how his office picks those who can sit down to speak with him in small groups. He doesn’t have the courage to face ordinary voters whose health security this law undermines, but if we were corporate lobbyists, as John Faso used to be, I’m sure that we could call up his scheduler and get a meeting just like that.
So I guess the question of whom he represents answers itself.
Joshua Holland is a freelance writer who lives in Kingston.