Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

Senator Jeff Merkley, talked about health care and several other topics Saturday during a town hall meeting in Baker City.

Merkley, a Democrat who was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2014, asked the audience of about 60 people if they were concerned about health care. Most people raised their hands.

“It’s pretty much most of us,” Merkley said. “The conversation has been driven by the (U.S. House of Representatives) health care bill. That bill came over to the Senate and then a group of 13 senators meeting secretly developed a Senate version of that.”

Merkley said those senators had no intention of holding any committee hearings, amendments or consultation with citizens or health care experts.

“It’s just not the way legislation is done in a democracy,” Merkley said.

He said the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the effects of the Senate bill would be similar to those of the House bill.

The CBO estimates that if the Senate bill became law, about 15 million people would lose their current health insurance in the first year, with 22 million losing insurance over a 10-year period.

Merkely said the Senate bill also would lead to higher costs and reduced coverage for many people and it would drastically reduce the number of people who are covered by Medicaid by the year 2020 — especially those in rural areas.

“In essence what this bill does is say, ‘We’re going to vastly reduce health care in order to give tax breaks to the richest Americans,’ ” Merkley said. “To give you an example of this, the 400 richest individuals will get $33 billion (in tax breaks) from this bill. That’s a lot of money. That’s enough money to pay for 700,000 people to have Medicaid.”

Merkely said most of his Republican colleagues who support the Senate bill are not scheduling town halls during the congressional break, possibly because they don’t want to face angry constituents.

“Well, that should be reason enough to hold town halls,” Merkley said.

He hopes that Congress will get past the current period of intense partisanship concerning health care because he believes the current system has problems that need to be addressed.

See more in the July 10, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.