U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, visited Frisco for the first leg of a whistle-stop tour of the High Country on Friday, the day after the Beltway was enraptured by former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But that hearing and investigations into possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia got barely a mention at the Summit County Commons, where roughly 100 attendees were mostly concerned with Senate efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Prior to the town hall, Bennet took a tour of the Summit Community Care Clinic, where roughly 32 percent of patients are enrolled in Medicaid. Many of those were uninsured prior to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, said Care Clinic chief operating officer Helen Royal, who is concerned that Republican legislation to roll back that expansion could be a drag on her organization.
Currently, around 4,278 Summit County residents are enrolled in Medicaid, and 1,937 of those were beneficiaries of the expansion, according to state data.
“If those numbers shift back, that would have a big impact on us because we’d have a lot more uninsured, and financially (those patients) challenge us greatly,” Royal said.
During the town hall, County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, a Democrat, offered up some numbers for Bennet to take to Washington.
“We’re close to 20 percent uninsured here in Summit County, and we have almost 2,000 people here locally that are part of the Medicaid expansion,” he said. “Those folks are right on the edge.”
Bennet claimed that under the American Health Care Act, the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, between 20 and 30 million people would lose health insurance.
Railing against that bill — which passed the House of Representatives but has yet to make it through the Senate — made for some of the morning’s most animated moments, both from Bennet and the crowd.
“The level of economic insecurity that exists in this county because of our screwed up health care system shouldn’t be tolerable in the United States of America,” he said. “Ask Republicans, ‘What is your bill actually doing to create more opportunity for people of Summit County to get health care?’ I can tell you, the answer is nothing.”
The flaws of Obamacare, which critics say have depressed economic growth and sent premium costs soaring, was not lost on Bennet, who said the 2009 law didn’t go far enough to reduce costs and improve access. Nonetheless, he argued, the AHCA in its current form doesn’t address those shortcomings.
“Of all those criticisms I’ve heard of Obamacare, I haven’t heard people say, ‘Could you please give a $440 billion tax cut to the richest Americans?’” he said. “‘Could you please give tax cuts to these insurance companies?’”
While health care took up most of the discussion, attendees were also concerned about the Trump administration’s policies toward public lands, environmental regulation and education — themes also raised at a Silverthorne town hall hosted last month by Democratic U.S. Representative Jared Polis.
Like his counterpart in the House, Bennet told voters to keep up pressure on their representatives and make their concerns heard. For at least one attendee, Les Schaffer, that wasn’t all that comforting.
“I’m busy here making a living, and what I’m hearing from you is that we’re pretty much screwed for the next four years,” he said.
On that point, Bennet said, one senator simply couldn’t do it alone.
“None of us picked to be in a time where we were going to have to deal with a president that doesn’t believe in separation of powers, who doesn’t believe in the independence of the judiciary, who doesn’t believe in freedom of the press,” he said. “And to the extent that you share those fundamental American values, this is a time when we need to hear you.”