Over 200 attend town talk with Rep. Rick Larsen | Corrected

South Whidbey Record: Over 200 attend town talk with Rep. Rick Larsen
By Evan Thompson

Congressman Rick Larsen told a packed audience of more than 200 people at the Langley Methodist Church on Saturday that he would not support a single-payer health care system.

Larsen, a Second Congressional District Democrat, was responding to the first questioned asked of him during a town hall gathering which marked his sixth stop in towns and cities over the past six weeks to discuss the Affordable Care Act and other assorted issues.

Larsen said that his position on the single-payer system was not new. While he does not support a single-payer system, he is in favor of major changes to the health care system.

“The ACA reflects a lot of those changes that I support,” Larsen said.

The future of the Affordable Care Act and the concerns associated with Republicans’ efforts to repeal it were the top discussion points of the day, though attendees also voiced concerns about Growler jets at Outlying Field Coupeville while also raising questions about the possible legal issues associated with sanctuary cities, increased military defense budget, contaminated drinking water in some parts of Whidbey Island, limited housing in Island County, opioids, national debt and other topics.

Those personally affected by the Affordable Care Act spoke up at the meeting. A mother of four, who declined to identify herself to The Record, said she was at risk of being unable to afford her son’s fight against diabetes and wondered if her access to health care would diminish if the Affordable Care Act went away.

Larsen said it was important to keep the Affordable Care Act alive because it aims to eventually introduce proven technology and equipment specifically for diabetes.

Overall, it was a great meeting according to Freeland resident Dave Anderson. A former South Whidbey state representative, Anderson said he felt an increase in military defense spending was unjustifiable and asked Larsen if the budget could be trimmed.

“To me, it’s just way too much,” Anderson said after the meeting. “There has to be a limit.”

Another commenter left as a more informed constituent, though was discouraged by Larsen’s position on the single-payer system.

“I did appreciate the question about the single-payer system,” Linda Bainbridge said. “I’m on Medicare, my husband is on Medicare. That’s an example of a single-payer system and I think it works really well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound as though he supports that or may never and I don’t know why, so I’m a little discouraged by that. But, he did raise a good point which is that with this current administration, our first priority has to be defending what we do have in place.”

Larsen also shared his opinions surrounding the positives of the Affordable Care Act, which he said include improved Medicare benefits for seniors, banned discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and expanded healthcare coverage. He also delved into the potential changes of Medicaid, a government healthcare program and expansion of Obamacare that helps poor and middle-class people obtain insurance.

Larsen said if federal payments to states are changed to a block grant program, where the federal government places a cap on the amount of money each state receives for Medicaid but gives states total flexibility for how to spend it, there will be major disruptions in the lives of those who need it most. He also said that the government may slowly reduce the amount of money a state receives.

“You’re going to end up with less money for nursing homes, you’re going to end up with families that have to make the choice between care and food and rent,” Larsen said. “For seniors as well, the Affordable Care Act makes prescriptions more affordable.”

About 75,000 Washington seniors received $73 million in medication benefits in 2015, Larsen said, which equated to $1,000 saved per senior, which otherwise would have come out of their pocket. There are also 537,000 Washingtonians who have the Affordable Care Act to thank for gaining insurance, Larsen said. Whether those same people will still have insurance if Obamacare is repealed was one of Larsen’s concerns, as he fears it may become unaffordable for many.

Larsen said that while the Congressional Republicans have repeatedly called for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, they had yet to offer a viable plan to replace it. Larsen’s statement was true as of Saturday, but on Monday, House Republicans introduced a bill that aims to repeal Obamacare and restructure the country’s Medicaid program.

Editor’s note: An early version of this story attributed a quote to the wrong person.