DeSantis town hall: Rep reiterates support for repealing ACA but still seeks costs savings

JAKE.MARTIN@STAUGUSTINE.COM Attendees at a town hall with Rep. Ron DeSantis wait to be called on by the District 6 Congressman Saturday at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine. The discussion touched on health care, term limits and President Donald Trump.

Health care was the hot topic at a town hall held on short notice Saturday by Rep. Ron DeSantis at Pedro Menendez High School. Town halls around the nation since President Donald Trump’s election and the announcement of the Affordable Care Act replacement have been contentious — this one being no exception.

 

With a mixed crowd of Republicans and Democrats, it was rare for anyone to get through a question or answer (or anything for that matter) without others offering their opinion on what was being said. Comments leading up to questions were especially scrutinized, with members of both sides countering any stories told or claims made by the other side with declarations they were untrue or just flat-out lies.

Asked whether he read House Speaker Paul Ryan’s bill, unveiled Monday night, DeSantis said he had but that it was “very difficult to understand” because there’s many amendments in the 150-page document to the roughly 2,000 pages of the Affordable Care Act. Adding the bill was “rammed” through two committees on Wednesday night, DeSantis said he didn’t think anyone could really come to grips with it in 36 hours.

“It gets rid of the onerous taxes and mandates that you have under Obamacare and I think that that’s good,” he said. “The problem is, I’m not sure if it does enough to lower the cost of health care.”

He said the story he’s heard in his office is one of families with premiums and deductibles that have doubled. Throwing a scenario out there, he said a family of four paying $800 a month in premiums with a deductible of $10,000 is not sustainable.

However, DeSantis also said that because the “bureaucratic architecture” has not been removed, he still sees incentives to drive prices up, even with the Republicans’ plan.

DeSantis later said he’s been a supporter of repealing the Affordable Care Act since the get-go.

“We gotta do it, we gotta do it, and we will do it, 100 percent,” he said.

He said the replacement part of the puzzle is really what he’s looking at.

“If you do it right, people are are going to have access to cheaper plans, if you don’t, then you still have a lot of government interference and bureaucracy,” he said. “I’m just not sure it’s going to reduce costs the way it’s supposed to.”

Questions about health care often came with anecdotes.

One woman from Hastings said the Affordable Care Act has allowed her and her family to secure a “fantastic” plan with a $0 deductible and premiums (with subsidies factored in) totaling under $100 a month. She said previously, in the free market, they were paying higher deductibles on top of un-subsidized premiums. Some years they didn’t have insurance at all.

“I appreciate that, believe me,” DeSantis said. “But there’s a lot of people who are paying those same premiums who are getting squat in subsidies. They’re not getting anything.”

He said the model is not sustainable, although later said “when you go beyond Obamacare” it’s not like there’d be nothing there.

One man from Ormond Beach said prior to the Affordable Care Act he had been with the same “wonderful” physician for over 25 years but that the physician had to close because he could not afford to continue his practice under the new regulations. He said his premiums have all gone up. He then criticized the Republicans’ bill for being what he saw merely as a list of amendments to the Affordable Care Act.

“That is not repeal of Obamacare!” he exclaimed.

DeSantis said that was a “great point” and that he felt the regulations under the Affordable Care Act accelerated a migration of private practitioners to hospitals, a trend he said would lead to more power to the hospitals and less choice for patients. Throughout the discussion he called for more flexibility in the types of plans available to participants.

While the bulk of the roughly hour and a half discussion focused on health care, there was enough meat on the bone for other issues to be tackled here and there.

Asked if he was in favor of putting term limits on members of Congress, DeSantis said (to as much of a consensus of applause he achieved the whole discussion), “Yes, yes, absolutely yes. That’d be great.”

He said in lieu of limits there are, instead, incentives for member of Congress to stay as long as possible, which may actually have the adverse effect of giving more power to the executive branch and un-elected bureaucracy. He said there was an argument to be made that elected officials who know their days are numbered might be less inclined to accept their low spot on the totem pole and push for more power to the legislature.

However, when asked later whether he would personally limit himself to his current third term, particularly if a proposed bill he supports to do just that were to fall through, DeSantis said he hasn’t made up his mind about his future political plans. He said he had concerns about senior members further consolidating their power if younger members with two or three terms volunteered to leave. He said in the event the bill does pass, he would abide by it, even if his term was grandfathered in.

Asked if he thought Trump was “unstable,” DeSantis said he didn’t want to make it about the man but his policies.

“I know some people don’t like him, that’s fine, but that’s not what I want to focus on,” he said. “It was a tough election, I get it, a lot of people are upset on both sides, but we’re here to kind of press forward now.”

Asked whether he supported an independent investigation into the allegations of ties between the Trump administration and Russia, DeSantis said he felt it was better left in the hands of the intelligence committees to protect any sensitive intelligence that may entail.

“You’re part of the problem,” one woman called out after members of the crowd had chanted “Yes or no.”

Asked how he would vote on a bill that would require candidates for president to release their tax returns (in the event it passes the committees), DeSantis said he would “look” at it.

“It is the decision of the candidates to make and it was something that was very litigated in the campaign,” he said. “I think some voters cared about it but others were fine to not do it.”

DeSantis also said there needs to be consequences for people who have a duty to protect sensitive information but leak that information to outside sources. He said he was “very disappointed” with former President Barack Obama’s pardon of Chelsea Manning, formerly Pfc. Bradley Manning, a United States Army soldier sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.

DeSantis also reiterated his support for defunding Planned Parenthood.

The stop was one of three the District 6 representative made Saturday. There were other engagements in Daytona Beach and Mount Dora.

 

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