WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Tom Woods, 75, said Wednesday he wanted to know if the Affordable Care Act has provisions for a “death panel” that would determine if certain people, such as the elderly, were worthy of health care coverage.
Woods asked the question at a town hall meeting in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre Township, where U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright appeared to dispel rumors and offer information about the new law.
“There’s no such thing,” Cartwright, D-Moosic, said of the death panel. “There are just too many malicious rumors resulting in a lot of scared people.”
Woods said he and his wife are among the scared and he wanted to attend the meeting to get answers.
“My wife and I no longer have children at home,” Woods said. “We still pay for our own insurance. We want to know if we will be able to continue to afford it.”
Cartwright was joined by Thomas McHugh, Health Care Marketplace Navigator for The Advocacy Alliance, state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, and Joseph DeVizia, former director of the Luzerne County Human Services Agency who acted as moderator.
Cartwright criticized President Barack Obama for misleading the American public on the Affordable Care Act. Obama repeatedly assured the public that they would be able to keep their health-care plans if they liked them.
“He shouldn’t have said that,” Cartwright said. “What he should have said is if you like your policy, and it still remains grandfathered in, and it doesn’t change, and it applies within the law, then you can keep it. That’s what he should have said.”
Problems, low enrollment
Cartwright said he supports the new law, but he and many others are embarrassed in the first weeks of the rollout, noting problems with the website and low enrollments.
“There are two camps in Washington,” Cartwright said. “The first camp wants to repeal everything. The other camp, which I am in, wants to take a look at what we have, embrace it and find ways to make it work.”
Cartwright said Congress will continue to hone the Affordable Care Act to get it to where it is good for all Americans who need health insurance.
Cartwright said he has not read the entire 2,500-page act, but he has read several analyses of it and its provisions.
“Some parts of it I’m not too crazy about,” he said.
Cartwright said he likes that pre-existing conditions are covered, that children can remain on their parents policy until age 26 and that there are no annual limits for coverage.
“And it strengthens the Medicare prescription drug provisions,” he said.
Cartwright said one of the keys to sustaining the act is to get young people to enroll. McHugh said despite the recent website crash, people can still get on the site and access information. The website is healthcare.gov.
Health insurance choices
The Affordable Care Act became law in 2010 and is now being rolled out, despite several attempts by Republicans to repeal it.
Bill Yeager is an insurance agent. He said the success of the act depends largely on younger people enrolling. However, Yeager said, many people, like himself and his wife, are forced to decide whether to buy health insurance or roll the dice so they can feed their families and meet all other household expenses.
Cartwright said all Americans should have health insurance to be on the safe side.
“You’re only young and healthy until you’re not,” Cartwright said.
Yeager also asked how many people have enrolled in the federal program, but neither Cartwright nor McHugh had the answer.
Cartwright said he and his entire congressional staff are enrolling in the program.
Also discussed was the issue of part-time employees. Cartwright said the act considers 30-plus hours as full-time, requiring employers to provide health care. He said the provision hasn’t seen a measurable difference in the status of employees — he said most employers are keeping their employees above the 30-hour requirement.
Cartwright addressed the problem of community hospitals covering uninsured patients. He said two hospitals in his district closed, largely because of the inability to continue accepting uninsured clients.