It wasn’t an overflow crowd for U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ third listening session, but there were plenty of people with strong opinions on the issue of health care reform.
There were also more people in this crowd who spoke in favor of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, than did at the previous session that Bilirakis had in New Port Richey.
Opinions at the session, at the Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel High School, varied widely.
“I beg you to keep something, either the ACA or something like that for pre-existing conditions,” a woman from Land O’ Lakes said. “I will lose my husband, if you don’t keep something.”
But, another woman said Obamacare has not worked.
“I know several friends — they need insurance, and they can’t afford Obamacare. It’s not the Affordable Care Act, period,” she said.
A woman priest told Bilirakis that the current uncertainty about health care is frightening people.
“I have many parishioners, friends and family members, and I just want to tell you that I’ve never seen people so afraid,” she said. “This is real fear, this is not fake fear,” she added.
A Wesley Chapel man asked Bilirakis: “Are you going to keep your campaign promise, to repeal Obamacare?”
Bilirakis responded: “I will vote to repeal Obamacare,” which was greeted by both boos and applause from the crowd.
“I want a replacement,” Bilirakis said.
He also assured the audience that people will not be cut off from their insurance without another option.
“By the way, we will have a transition period … I’m arguing for three years. Some people are saying two years,” Bilirakis said.
A Pinellas County man said he’s with Bilirakis: “This was a change election. We stand behind you, to repeal and replace.”
Another man urged Bilirakis to find a way to make health care more affordable.
After being laid off, the man said he purchased Obamacare, but the premiums were expensive, and the deductible was $6,200.
He told Bilirakis that he stopped paying his premiums so he could afford to see his doctor, then he was billed by the federal government for his “shared responsibility” because he doesn’t have insurance.
Another speaker said the cost of Obamacare has caused a family member’s business to lay off employees and to close a location, reducing the company’s profits and costing employees their jobs.
“I’m in favor of repealing and replacing Obamacare,” the woman said.
One man asked Bilirakis point-blank: “Are you going to make it less expensive?”
Bilirakis responded with one word: “Yes.”
Still others want to see universal health care, so that no one is left out in the cold.
As one Vietnam war veteran put it: “If you can look into yourself and say, ‘Why not universal health care for all people?
“If we can spend $20 trillion to try to kill people, how about a few trillion dollars for wellness of the American people?” he said.
A woman from Quail Hollow assured Bilirakis that she wasn’t a paid activist, and like the vast majority of Americans, she wants to see members of Congress reach across the aisle to solve problems.
Many speakers praised Bilirakis for meeting with his constituents rather than ducking them, as other members of Congress have done.
“You are my constituents,” Bilirakis told the crowd. “I have an obligation to listen to you. The best ideas come from the people.”
One Wesley Chapel woman urged Bilirakis, when he goes back to Washington, to turn to a higher power for guidance on the health care issue.
“Get on your knees and ask God’s help to make the right decision,” she said.
Bilirakis issued a statement following his third listening session, noting that he will continue to seek common ground and constructive exchanges with people from his district.
“But, the Affordable Care Act in its current state is unsustainable, and it’s only going to get worse — costs are going up, while choices and flexibility are dwindling. We need a health care system that is truly patient-focused, and I will use the input from my recent meetings to shape my work on replacement legislation.”
Published March 1, 2017