Stefanik trades blows with critics

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro (Official photo)

PLATTSBURGH — The heat remains on North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik since her vote in favor of the American Health Care Act two weeks ago, and she is responding.

But not everyone is buying her explanations.

“I’m not comfortable with it because there are so many different health-care experts who deal with this issue every day who do not support it (AHCA),” Clinton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Sara Rowden said. “That tells me something.”

Stefanik put out a statement this week addressing what she says are myths about the American Health Care Act being spread by opponents.

Her campaign staff also got involved by posting a statement on her campaign Facebook page asking those who support her to sign a petition.

The post said: “Help Elise FIGHT BACK!”

Her response was spurred by opponents of the Republican health-insurance plan who have criticized her on social media and in person.

About 200 people gathered at Mountain Lake PBS last week to protest as Stefanik, R-Willsboro, appeared at a televised town-hall-style meeting with an audience of 100 people chosen by lottery.

Many protesters outside the studio carried signs and shouted comments against Stefanik and her vote.

Her Facebook and Twitter feeds have been bombarded by comments critical of her vote and of her politics.

“Reprehensible”

Stefanik’s campaign staff posted a statement, aimed at Facebook news feeds, saying that some of the comments and attacks from the “radical left” were “reprehensible.”

The statement, which has a picture of Stefanik, urged followers to sign a petition in support of her position, which was, in part, that the Affordable Care Act under former President Barack Obama was driving up premiums for too many Americans and needed to be fixed.

The post sparked numerous strong responses against her.

A campaign spokesman said their post on Facebook news feeds was in reaction to photographs of the Mountain Lake protest, some of which featured graphic attacks against Stefanik.

One protest sign was of the congresswoman depicted as the Grim Reaper, calling her “Angel of Death.”

Another was of a coffin with a label reading “pre-existing conditions,” signifying that some people could lose coverage and then die under the plan she supported.

Another sign asked Stefanik to “soft shoe” when she dances on their grave.

Bipartisan recognition

Lenny Alcivar, a campaign spokesman, said Stefanik has been recognized as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress since she entered in 2015.

“She has consistently demonstrated a commitment to transparency, government accountability and to increased civic engagement,” he said.

“The congresswoman is proud of her long, proven record of encouraging open, respectful dialogue with each and every one of her constituents, even those who disagree with her policy positions.

“The post simply referred to the unfortunate characterizations of the congresswoman that greatly differed from the robust, civil exchange of policy views during (the) televised town hall.”

Congress not exempt

On Monday, Stefanik said a lot of misinformation about the AHCA is being circulated.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to set the record straight on a few of the false claims that my office is hearing and help explain this important bill to fix our broken health-care system,” she wrote on the website Medium.

Set out in “myth” and “fact” format, Stefanik said:

“Myth: Members of Congress are exempt from the American Health Care Act.

“Fact: This claim is false. In fact, I was proud to co-author legislation that passed the House unanimously to ensure that, if the AHCA becomes law, members of Congress and our staff would abide by the same rules as everyone else.

“Congress should live by the same laws it passes onto the rest of the nation. This is why I currently receive my health care through the Obamacare exchanges, though I decline the congressional subsidy.

“I was proud to help lead this effort to ensure that members of Congress do not receive any special treatment.”

Pre-existing conditions

“Myth: The American Health Care Act does not protect those with pre-existing conditions,” the Stefanik release reads.

“Fact: This is also false. A core commitment of mine throughout this process was to ensure those with pre-existing conditions are protected.

“Under this legislation, insurance companies are prohibited from denying coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition; they are banned from rescinding coverage based on a pre-existing condition and prevented from raising premiums on individuals with pre-existing conditions who maintain continuous coverage.

“The bottom line is that this legislation protects those with pre-existing conditions, and New York state regulations further protect them.”

Medicaid changes

“Myth: The American Health Care Act will take away coverage for those on Medicaid,” Stefanik wrote.

“Fact: Again, this is a false claim that is often reported in the media. One of my top priorities in any Obamacare replacement package was to ensure that no one had the rug pulled out from under them.

“The American Health Care Act makes NO changes to Medicaid until 2020. After 2020, anyone currently on Medicaid will still keep their coverage.

“The American Health Care Act allows New York state to decide if they want to continue their expanded Medicaid program at a reduced federal reimbursement rate.

“Additionally, after 2020, advanceable tax credits will be made available for people to purchase high-quality private insurance plans. These changes to Medicaid allow states to target funding for this important program towards those who need it most.

“House passage of the American Health Care Act is the first step in a long legislative process,” she said.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to continue to improve this legislation and build a health-care system that lowers costs, improves quality and increases access for North Country families.”

Loopholes

Her explanations were not convincing some.

Rowden said she is concerned about the pre-existing-condition aspect of the bill, saying that those who change coverage could find incredibly steep premiums when they get new insurance.

“I see a big loophole there, and I am concerned about that,” she said.

Rowden also said those who are concerned about the Republican plan are not the “radical left” but rather average Americans.

“Health care is so very personal, and it affects people in so many different ways,” she said.

“We are not the radical left. We are people who are just deeply, deeply concerned.”

Opponent weighs in

Patrick Nelson, a Democrat from Stillwater who wants to run against Stefanik next year, said the Republican plan that Stefanik supported is not the answer.

“We are all in the same boat, and the boat is filling with water,” Nelson said.

“And the Republicans’ answer is to drill more holes in the boat.”

Nelson said that while those in New York might not be in jeopardy of losing health coverage over a pre-existing condition because of state laws, the bill will impact others around the nation.

“As a member of Congress, I wouldn’t want to be voting for something that will hurt any Americans,” he said.

Nelson said the bill will also be harmful to those on Medicaid, despite Stefanik’s claims that it won’t.

“This feels like double-talk to me or she doesn’t understand the economics of health care, which is possible,” he said.

“Nobody supports this, and it seems like a boondoggle tax break for those who are already wealthy.”

Nelson said that being called reprehensible for opposing Stefanik’s vote was a compliment.

“Real reform”

Matt Funiciello, who ran unsuccessfully against Stefanik in 2014 and 2016 as a Green Party candidate and recently told North Country Public Radio he will run again next year, said Americans need to ask themselves a few questions.

“Why do we not have Medicare for all in this country? HR 676 (potential bill) would save us between $600 billion and a $1 trillion a year over what we already spend in public money, and a very clear majority of Americans surveyed want this,” he said.

“Now, why is Elise Stefanik making excuses for either the ACA or the AHCA, both of which are anti-worker cash grabs by big pharma and the insurance companies?”

Funiciello said now is the time for some real health-care reform.

“Why, if the Democrats are actually a force of opposition to the GOP, haven’t their ‘progressive’ leaders (like Bernie Sanders) released a Senate single-payer bill?” he said. “Wouldn’t this be the perfect time?”

(Editor’s note: Four daily newspapers in the North Country — the Enterprise, Post-Star of Glens Falls, Watertown Daily Times and Press-Republican of Plattsburgh — are sharing content to better cover New York’s 21st Congressional District.)

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