President Donald Trump made his pitch for repealing his predecessor’s healthcare law by bringing a number of Americans who’ve had poor experiences with Obamacare to a “listening session” at the White House.
Sitting at the table with half a dozen visitors, Vice-President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Trump blasted Obamacare as “very failed and failing” system, under which “many Americans lost their plans and doctors altogether.” The meeting was live-streamed on Facebook and White House’s YouTube channel, but not shown live on any mainstream media.
“The fact is, Obamacare is a disaster,” Trump said, promising that its replacement will lower cost, expand choices and offer access to everyone through more competition. It is “going to take a little while” for results to show, maybe even a year or two, but “once it does, it’s going to be a thing of beauty,” he said.
Trump’s introductory remarks were followed by testimonials from the guests. One after another, they spoke of premiums doubling or tripling, high deductibles that meant massive out-of-pocket costs before they could use any of the coverage, and even having to take on additional work to afford the insurance.
Brittany Ivey from Georgia said Obamacare “almost put our family in financial ruin,” forcing her to take a full-time job just to afford a plan she was never able to use because of high deductibles.
A nurse named Gina, who worked part-time to spend more time with her children was likewise forced into full-time work to afford $1,200 monthly premiums, but could not get any care due to a $6,500 deductible.
“Folks really can’t afford these rising premiums,” so they pay the penalty and don’t have insurance, said Dr. Manny Sethi from Tennessee.
“The rate increase is just astronomical,” said Joe, a farmer from Tennessee, adding that he’s paying a $549 monthly premium with $7,000 deductible for a “plan that I don’t need and don’t want.”
Businessman Greg Knox injected a moment of levity into the meeting by bringing Trump a letter written by his son. He then testified about Obamacare nearly ruining his company, which had provided health plans to employees for 15 years.
“I had a choice of either having a company or being able to provide my employees with that level of healthcare,” Knox said.
“I actually ran for government [office] so I could have insurance,” said Stan, an elected official from Utah, bringing up his $6,000 deductible and raising a point about chronic conditions.
Democrats have criticized GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, saying the plan proposed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) would “make America sick again” and strip millions of health insurance.
On Saturday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called the plan “a disgrace” and argued it was a tax break for the richest Americans that had “nothing to do with health care.”
Twice during the meeting, Trump mentioned that Republicans could just wait a year or two for the unpopular healthcare mandate to “implode” on its own. While that would be good for the party politically, it would be the wrong thing for the country, he said.
“The press is making Obamacare look so good all of a sudden,” Trump said. “It’s a little bit like President Obama. When he left, people like him. When he was here, people didn’t like him so much.”