Four key health care questions U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle faced during his Pittsburgh town hall

The Saturday Q&A lasted more than two hours.

mj slaby / the incline
MJ Slaby

U.S. Rep Mike Doyle knows there are many things to “talk about with the Trump administration” — but health care is the first thing on his mind.

The American Health Care Act seeks to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act, putting millions of people at risk of losing health insurance, Doyle said Saturday at a town hall attended by hundreds at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland.

When introducing the bill less than two weeks ago, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the plan would reduce costs and encourage competition while giving access to health insurance and protecting those with pre-existing conditions, CNN reportedThe bill has faced criticism across party lines. A U.S. House vote is planned for Thursday with no public hearings and very few Republican congressmen willing to hold town halls, said Doyle, a Democrat who represents the 14th District, including much of Pittsburgh and some surrounding areas.

Saturday’s health care town hall started with four speakers, including Doyle, followed by a Q&A that was scheduled for an hour, but lasted more than two. Many questions for Doyle came from people who work in health care and from people who had personal stories about how the ACA changed their lives and was something they needed to survive. These are highlights of the questions to Doyle.

What can constituents do before the vote on the new health care bill?

“There’s nothing more powerful than picking up the phone or sending a letter,” Doyle said, adding that constituents should tell their elected officials that they vote and they are watching how Congress members vote.

“That would get my attention,” he said.

While Doyle opposes the health care bill, many other lawmakers from Pa. have an unclear opinion, Billy Penn reportedRay Landis, advocacy manager for AARP Pa. and a speaker at the town hall, said voters know how Doyle will vote. His advice was to call friends and family that aren’t in the 14th District and tell them to reach out to their elected officials.

Attendees also asked Doyle what they could do about other issues that are important to them. He stressed calling and simply asking about bills and why the elected official isn’t a co-sponsor. In that vein, one woman asked Doyle why he wasn’t co-sponsoring legislation advocating for the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns, prompting the congressman to say he thought he was, but if not, he would add his name Monday.

How will more young people sign up for health care?

One of the problems with the current ACA is that there wasn’t enough incentive — or strong enough penalties — to encourage young people to sign up for health insurance and pay into the system, Doyle said. Young people need to be in the risk pool, so people who need health care are able to get it, he said. Even if they are healthy and may not need it, they likely know someone — a sibling, a parent or a friend — with a chronic health condition who does.

Under the ACA, nonexempt Americans faced financial penalties for not having health insurance, and under AHCA, that wouldn’t change, but premiums could be higher for one year for people without continuous coverage.

If people are fortunate enough to go through life as healthy people who have healthy families, they should be willing to pay a little more to help others, Doyle said.

How can Medicaid be saved?

Several people told personal stories about family members who are able to be successful and live their lives thanks to the health care they got through Medicaid.

The AHCA would phase out Medicaid expansion that allowed states to grow who was covered by Medicaid, as well as cap federal funding that states get per enrollee. Republican leaders have criticized the Medicaid expansion, saying it went to people who don’t need Medicaid and want states to pay a larger share of the costs.

Doyle said there is a real danger in what could happen to Medicaid, which he said largely goes to health care for children, people with disabilities and seniors. He said he fears that the AHCA would force states to pit those three groups against each other.

What does Doyle say to colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate?

“Don’t assume we’re all friends down there,” Doyle said.

But he said he does talk to the members of the Pa. Delegation to understand their thinking on health care and topics such as concerns about minority groups and transgender rights. Doyle added that regardless of what others say, his constituents can’t be afraid to stand up for what they believe in.

Members of Trump’s party are starting to question him, and Doyle said he predicts the end will come when Republicans say Trump is a liability for them.

“Right now, Donald Trump is in a ditch. He has a shovel in his hand and he’s still digging,” Doyle said. “Let’s not take the shovel out of his hands.”

Watch the rest of the town hall here: