While Republican senators returned home this week to tough questions about their health care repeal and replace, Democratic senators are continuing their push to highlight their concerns about the GOP bill.
Its fate remains unclear since senators left D.C. last week without a vote.
“I'm begging my colleagues to come debate me,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., of the Republicans’ plan.
During her first town hall in years, she didn’t debate, but rather answered an hour and half worth of questions from a friendly but worried audience.
“Before the Affordable Care Act, there used to be lines, and we turned people away, but now that people have insurance, there’s a lot more people that have found a medical home,” said Jeff Johnson, of Auburn, who introduced himself as a founding board member of Chris Community Free Clinic.
“My question is how do we get to a bi-partisan agreement on health care?” asked Johnson. “We have to come to middle ground somewhere.”
“I’m continuing to advocate that there are things that are working,” responded Cantwell. “I think what we should do is go back and focus on the individual market and what are some of those challenges, and what we can do to fix that and quit beating up on Medicaid.”
Senate Democrats, including Cantwell, have spent the past several weeks voicing concern about the GOP plan’s proposed cuts to Medicaid, a program significantly expanded under Obamacare.
Others in the audience raised concern about the rising cost of premiums, an issue that lawmakers from both parties agree remains a problem.
“My question to you is what do we do as people who make too money to get affordable care, but don’t make enough money to actually go buy insurance. It’s either car or insurance,” said one attendee.
“This is why I think it’s so important to go back and focus on the individual market and we focus on solutions like allowing people to be bundled up together in the basic plan,” said Cantwell, referencing the basic health plan that Washington state passed in the late 1980's when Cantwell served in the state legislature.
Related: Washington state provides case study on effects of health-care reform via Washington Post
Related: In Washington state, a healthcare repeal lesson learned the hard way via Los Angeles Times
“We should go and have that discussion in Washington D.C.,” Cantwell continued.
However, a handful in the audience pressed for more. Some of the loudest cheers came from an audience member raised the issue of single-payer health care.
“I think it’s very important that we continue to push the models that are going to drive down cost and increase access, and what people may not realize that in the Affordable Care Act we have a provision in there that says that a state can pursue, actually using the federal dollars, a single payer system,” said Cantwell.
“That is the fastest way at this moment to get what you are asking. It’s not likely with the Republican controlled House and Senate and White House that we’re going to get anything new done right now on that issue, but states can under the Affordable Care Act,” she said, pivoting back to a defense of ACA.
The answer didn’t satisfy one attendee who could be heard shouting: “Stand for something!”
“I’m for the results that we’ve gotten on the basic health plan, because right now 650,000 in New York buying cheap, affordable insurance which is a public option has been a Godsend. If we can do better than that, I’m all for doing better than that, but at this point in time, we have people saying, ‘What can you get me today?’” responded Cantwell.
While Wednesday's town hall again proved the nuances of health care policy are highly complicated, the concerns are simple, felt by both patients and providers.
“It is really distressing to be practicing medicine right now,” said Victoria Allen, a primary care physician in Seattle.
“My biggest fear is that it’s about to get a whole lot worse before it gets better,” Allen continued.
Related: Senate Republicans lay low during Fourth of July recess, face tough questions on health care bill via New York Times
Related: Five changes GOP might make to health care bill via The Hill
Cantwell’s health care town hall marked the first time since 2009 she’s held an official community town hall, according to a spokesman.
Two more are scheduled for this week. On Friday, Cantwell will hold a “net-neutrality” town hall, as well as a general town hall on Saturday.