MONTE VISTA— The Rio Grande County Democrats held a meeting at Carnegie Public Library in Monte Vista last Tuesday night, May 9. In addition to the regular business conducted, the local party joined a conference call with Senator Michael Bennet and was one of only five groups who personally discussed healthcare reform and the firing of now-former FBI Director Comey, which happened only a few hours prior to the call.
Bennet began the call by outlining some of his thoughts on current issues and thanked the conference call attendees for their dedication to their values and communities. “I struggle to think of a time when your engagement is more important than right now,” Bennet began. He explained that he found President Trump’s explanation of the firing of Comey to be “entirely unbelievable to me” and urged concerned citizens to insist on an independent investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.
When speaking about the American Healthcare Act (AHCA) and its recent passage from the federal House to the Senate, Bennet also did not hide his disdain for the bill, “What they’ve passed are a set of long-standing policies that Paul Ryan and the most [politically] right people have wanted.” Bennet explained that the house bill would cut one-quarter of the Medicaid program around the county. “Half of the Medicaid recipients in Colorado are children,” Bennet explained, adding that the other half are largely elderly people whose medical conditions have cost them their savings or are hardworking people whose jobs don’t pay a living wage. He added that there are probably a few people who are taking advantage of the Medicaid system but emphasized that they are very few and it wouldn’t be fair of Congress to abandon those children and elderly people who most need Medicaid for only a few other people. “The rest of the bill is Obamacare-light,” Bennet stated, explaining that many of the popular policies in the Affordable Care Act remain, but insurance subsidies are reduced. “There is nothing in that bill that helps people struggling to pay premiums or other insurance costs.”
Bennet also addressed topics including immigration, threats “to the rule of law in this country,” the incorrect labelling of factual information as “fake news” and the President’s use of executive orders. He encouraged those on the call to “be involved, not sit on the sidelines. I feel like we have a very important job to do. We all need to stand up for what’s right and assert our core American values at the local level.” Answering the first question, which asked Bennet what activists can do, he added “We can’t do this in election cycles” and encouraged Coloradoans to contact himself and their other representatives to keep them informed about what their constituents want.
Answering another question about how the Senate intends to change the AHCA bill, Bennet pointed out that Senator Cory Gardner should also be contacted, as he was concerned that the cuts to Medicaid would be too severe and would harm Coloradoans. Gardner is now one of the 13 Republican, male senators selected for a committee to analyze and change the bill for the Senate. “Let him know what is important to you and to Colorado.” A representative from Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains asked the senator what aspects of healthcare will be protected in the bill. Bennet answered that although it has not stopped legislators in different states and in congress from trying, a bill that attacks women’s health has not been successful in Senate, “at least since I’ve been here.”
Rio Grande County Chair Jesse Anthony Guerrero polled the local attendees prior to the call regarding the content of their question, and when their turn came to speak to Senator Bennet, Guerrero asked him about the single-payer option and its plausibility. “What’s your opinion on the single-payer option to address the rising costs of healthcare?” Bennet answered the local Democrats with his honest opinion, although he did not favor that option. “Americans right now are trying to find a way to not spend 16 percent of their income on healthcare, and affordability is a big concern…That’s [the single payer option] still a long way from where we are now.” Bennet explained that a public option was a great way to create competition and help bring prices down, and he hoped in the near future that the federal government could “provide the scaffolding” for states to create a public option as a choice for health coverage. Bennet added that he doesn’t get many complaints to his office about Medicare, but he does hear often from constituents who are dissatisfied with the poor coverage and high prices from private insurers.
Members of the Routt County Democrats asked Bennet if he believed that a compromised healthcare bill was possible. He answered “Where I can [compromise] I certainly will,” but added that it would only be worth compromising if the bill as the House has passed it “crashes and burns.” “A cheap plan with no coverage is not a compromise,” and Bennet assured listeners that he wouldn’t compromise on what Coloradoans don’t want, reminding the callers that Routt County has some of the most expensive healthcare in the whole country; fixing that problem “is not something we can compromise on.”
Senator Bennet concluded the call with a touching story about one of his daughters who in 2009 got to listen to President Obama address public schoolchildren around the country, which was met with controversy. Upon hearing that some parents were opposed to the President’s message, Bennet asked his daughter, then in elementary school, what she took away from the address and she answered simply, “Never give up!” The senator encouraged listeners to follow that theme and continue their positive work in their communities.