Constituents heckle and boo Tom MacArthur, calling him a killer as 500 people gather for New Jersey event: I dont think Ill vote for him again
Tom MacArthur, the New Jersey congressman who has been celebrated in conservative circles for helping pass the Republican healthcare bill, came back down to earth with a bang on Wednesday night when he was booed, heckled and generally chastised during a nearly five-hour town hall meeting.
In Willingboro, hundreds showed up to lambast MacArthur, most fuelled by their congressmans intervention to revive the ailing American Health Care Act (AHCA).
MacArthur was branded a weasel, a killer and an idiot by constituents angry at his amendment to the bill, which would allow states to opt out of rules that protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from being charged more for healthcare coverage. This stipulation proved enough to satisfy the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the bill which would probably see millions of Americans lose their healthcare coverage passed the House on 4 May.
The majority of Republicans who voted for the bill are not holding public events this week, despite being on recess. Those who have dared face voters have been pilloried. Aware of this, MacArthur kicked off his town hall at 6.30pm with a promise to respond to every single question, for as long as it goes. He was still being quizzed by angry residents at 11.20pm.
More than 500 people had gathered outside the Kennedy Center in Willingboro, just across the Delaware river from Philadelphia. It was a lively and loud scene, a number of voters chanting, waving signs and generally causing a ruckus.
Our health matters more than Toms net worth, one banner read. A sign showed a picture of MacArthur with I took your healthcare written on his forehead. Another described MacArthur, a former insurance executive who was elected in 2014, as MacWeasel.
Claudia Storicks, a former nurse who has been on disability for the past two years, had travelled from Pemberton, New Jersey. She has diabetes and charcot foot a weakening of the bones caused by nerve damage and was using an electric scooter. She is insured under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration legislation the AHCA seeks to replace.
It was the only insurance that I could afford, she said. Ive been able to afford my medication and my doctors visits because Im on the ACA. Otherwise I probably would have lost my house and my foot.
Storicks voted for MacArthur in 2016 hes a businessman and I thought he had a good sense about taxes, she said but now described herself as very angry at the prospect of the ACA being repealed.
That would mean that my diabetes would get out of control, my foot would probably get worse, and Id probably end up in hospital and losing my house.
Medford, New Jersey, resident Jay Wilder, 72, was first in line. He arrived six hours early. Im really worried about pre-existing conditions because I dealt with it when I was going from my job before I had Medicare, he said.
Wilder had had a heart attack and said he couldnt afford healthcare. I just lived without healthcare, hoping that nothing would happen. It was very difficult because when youre 64 years old you start having health issues.
The anger outside the venue set the tone for the event itself. MacArthur walked out to Coldplays A Sky Full of Stars, and to a similarly tepid round of applause from the 250 people who had made it inside. The congressman smiled and offered his hand to a man wearing a green shirt, sitting in the front row. The man kept his arms folded and thrust his head away.
The four hours and 50 minutes that followed were no less hostile. MacArthur had asked constituents not to boo him but that proved to be in vain. People repeatedly told him he had blood on his hands.
A man who had received a kidney transplant feared what would happen to people like him under the AHCA. A resident whose wife had recovered from breast cancer was concerned that she would always have a pre-existing condition and did not want that to determine which state she lived in.
A woman had brought her two young children, one of whom had learning difficulties, and objected to them potentially being placed in a high-risk pool an aspect of MacArthurs amendment designed to assist people with pre-existing conditions, but which could lead to higher health insurance costs.
MacArthurs responses that only 7% of Americans were in the individual market, that people would not lose their insurance (the Congressional Budget Office, in its assessment of an earlier version of the bill, said 24 million would probably do so), and that there are loads of other people who dont agree with you did not placate the crowd.
Nor did his response to repeated chants calling for single-payer healthcare.
Government bureaucrats can be very dangerous when they have power to make decisions on peoples health, MacArthur said, prompting one woman to tell the congressman she would prefer that scenario than someone in an office of an insurance company making the same decisions.