Congressman fields questions at town hall meeting

Published 10:12 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Congressman Phil Roe, M.D., fielded questions on many topics during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening, but much of the conversation centered around healthcare.

Some of Roe’s answers were met with cheers, while others were meet with jeers from those in attendance. A group of attendees also waved color-coded cards or papers depending on their thoughts on matter — green for when they were in favor of a question or answer, and red for when they opposed it.

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One of the most frequently discussed topics during Tuesday’s town hall was health care — specifically the Affordable Care Act and the proposed Republican replacement legislation the American Health Care Act.

While expanding healthcare coverage to more Americans was a good idea, Roe said the ACA did not meet its goal of making health insurance more affordable. Because the marketplace price is based on the group health needs, Roe said younger people ended up paying more for their insurance and when they began to drop out of the marketplace the costs increased for everyone, essentially making the insurance unaffordable for many.

Insurance marketplaces have begun to collapse, Roe said.

“One-third of my District will have no options in the healthcare marketplace,” Roe said. “Knox County, the third largest market in the state exchange, has no options.”

“For a few people it’s working, but for the vast majority of people it’s not,” he added.

The rising cost of prescription medication was also a matter for discussion. Chris Little, MS, PA-C, of Arthritis Associates of Kingsport expressed his concern with how much the price of prescription medication continues to rise.

“My senior citizens can’t afford their medicine,” Little said. “They come in crying saying they are in pain but can’t afford their medicine.”

Roe said he agreed that addressing the cost of prescription medication should be part of the focus when working to make healthcare more affordable. The Congressman cited a story that made national news when the manufacturers of the EpiPen significantly increased the price of the life-saving medication and were called before a Congressional hearing over the rate hike.

A woman in the audience asked him how he would make prescriptions more affordable.

Roe responded that addressing prescription costs would need a multi-part approach which would include making it easier for generic medications to reach the market, thus driving down the prices on name-brand medications as well as possibly opening up pathways for medications manufactured in Canada or Europe.

Roe also offered a personal suggestion. “I’m sick of seeing these commercials,” Roe said. “I think maybe instead of spending all that money on advertisements they ought to lower their prices.”

One woman in the audience suggested Congress consider national healthcare with “Medicare for all.” As Roe began to respond to her question to explain how placing all Americans on Medicare would affect the federal budget some in the crowd began to boo and jeer the Congressman while others shouted interruptions.

One attendee asked the Congressman why the government could not cut defense spending in order to provide additional funds for healthcare and other needs.

“The first obligation the President has is to defend the nation,” Roe said. “When it comes to defense, I want to have a little more than we need.”

“The world is a very dangerous place,” Roe continued, adding he thought cuts could be made to some foreign aid. “I understand needing to have allies around the world, but I have a problem with sending money to some place that doesn’t like us, especially when we have people here in need.”

A member of the audience questioned why Roe, who spent his medical career as an obstetrician, voted against Planned Parenthood.

“I’m pro-life, and a lot of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions,” Roe said, adding he felt women would be better served by funneling those funds into approved health clinics that provide women’s health services.

A woman in the crowd shouted that Roe should do “what the people want” and added that “the people” want Planned Parenthood.

“I would say that most of the people in this district would disagree with you,” Roe replied.