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Thompson Discusses Health Care, Environment at Town Hall

by on August 11, 2017 12:05 AM

Since January, residents of Pennsylvania's 5th Congressional District have been calling on Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, to take part in an in-person town hall.

On Thursday night, Thompson held one, sitting down at the WPSU studio at Innovation Park for an hourlong question and answer session simulcast on television and online.

Here in Centre County, residents have held protests outside his office, organized and invited him to town halls and held their own public forums when he didn't attend. Some weren't happy with his decision to finally participate in a town hall in a venue with an audience capacity limited to 100 people. Outside of WPSU, the PA-5 People's Town Hall congregated to make their voices heard for larger and more frequent town halls.

Inside, Thompson took questions from the studio audience as well as some submitted to WPSU in advance.

At the outset, moderator Cheraine Stanford noted that the vast majority of questions received ahead of time were about health care, and many questioned Thompson's decision to support the American Health Care Act, which passed the House with a Republican majority, but was significantly amended and failed in the Senate.

The first question asked Thompson if he believed health care is a right or a privilege for those who can afford it.

"I think health care is a right, I just disagree that there is one method, one strategy for access," he said. "There are many access points and that’s what we need to look at."

Thompson said that many of the strategies of the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, have failed and that for many people premiums and deductibles have gotten too high. In Centre County, he said, 9,000 people were uninsured before the ACA and today that number is 11,000.

He later said that ACA resulted in thousands of children being taken out of Pennsylvania's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and placed on Medical Assistance, which made it harder for them to get regular care with lower payment rates.

"We can do better, and that’s my commitment," he said, adding that he draws on 28 years of experience in health care -- as a rehabilitation therapist and licensed nursing home administrator -- to find solutions.

A questioner in the audience said the ACA replacement Thompson supported would have caused 22 million people to lose health care, citing Congressional Budget Office figures. He called Thompson's vote "unacceptable" and "despicable."

Thompson disputed the 22 million figure, saying that the CBO estimated the ACA would enroll 20 million and that today the number is just over 10 million. He said that most of those in Centre County who aren't insured are paying the penalty to the IRS.

"I have constituents whose deductibles are so high they don’t seek care when they’re sick because they don’t have thousands of dollars," Thompson said.

He also noted that he rejected the initial version of the House bill until it restored Medicaid reimbursement levels for people of all ages with disabilities and provided additional subsidies for older adults.

Before leaving Washington for the current district work session, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus committed to drafting a compromise bill. Thompson said that effort would be committed to stabilizing insurance markets and pools of money for pre-existing conditions, repealing the medical device tax and working toward purchasing insurance across state lines.

Another questioner said she had met personally with Thompson and that he promised that individuals with disabilities who rely on Medicaid would be protected. She then asked why he voted for a bill that would have reduced Medicaid spending by $800 billion over a decade (also a CBO estimate.)

Thompson again disputed the number and said the bill put $120 billion toward individuals with pre-existing conditions and added $8 billion to cover gaps for pre-existing conditions when individuals lose employment and employer-provided health care.

"What we have now is not working for everyone with pre-existing conditions and my goal is to see us do better with that," he said. "The bill that will be introduced in September from the Problem Solvers Caucus does stabilize that fund so the states can go to that if they find people with pre-existing conditions are having problems with affordability."

Asked why the U.S. won't adopt a single-payer system like most other Western nations, Thompson said that health care has been rationed for years on a smaller scale, citing examples such as the Veterans Administration and Medicare Part B. He cited issues with those, such as "quality and responsiveness" with the VA and coverage caps with Medicare.

"I’m not a supporter of the single-payer system," he said. "Based on my experience as a health care provider for nearly three decades, I just don’t see where that works well."

Thompson also was asked why he has supported Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. He said that the bill would have given states freedom to decide who receives funding and that he supports community health centers.

But, he added, Planned Parenthood doesn't operate facilities anywhere in the 5th District, which includes all or part of 16 counties. Pressed further he said it was also because of the organization's "role in the abortion industry."

Stanford noted that federal funds have not been used for abortion services since the 1970s, and Thompson returned to his point about Planned Parenthood offering no services in his district.

On the Environment

After health care, the most questions were devoted to issues of the environment. Thompson drew groans from the audience when he said that he believes in climate change and that humans contribute to it, but that he's not sure how much humans contribute to it. He said the climate naturally evolves and that things like wildfires and solar activity play a role.

The claim that the sun plays a role in climate change has been refuted by NASA. Increased wildfires are viewed as an indicator of climate change.

Thompson, however, did stress his commitment to a healthy environment. A member of the House Agriculture Committee, for six years he chaired the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.

Congress has passed a number of measures for clean water, he said, such as programs for riparian buffers and stream bank reinforcements. He disagreed with a questioner's assessment that legislators have repealed water protection regulations.

"I've done a lot of work with clean water and I'm committed to doing that," he said. "I'm always committed to clean water."

He added that he held the first legislative hearing on healthy soils.

Thompson also said that he does not support a carbon tax, but that work for healthy forests was responsible for the world's largest carbon sink.

He said that greenhouse gasses are down to 1992 levels and on pace to continue decreasing through 2040. He also said he's not sure the money spent addressing climate change has yielded enough results.

"I think there is a responsibility for practices to take that carbon out of the air, obviously to take pollutants out of the air, that’s always been consistent with my beliefs," he added.

On divisiveness and openness

Asked about what seems to be a toxic, divisive environment in Washington and politics in general, Thompson said there are still people working toward common solutions.

"There are some that no matter what the profession is they’re on the edge and they are abrasive, he said. "But I can tell you day in and day out there is that decency and respect and bipartisan work that does occur. I don’t introduce a bill unless it’s bipartisan working across the aisle and trying to meet needs. That’s really what its all about."

He cited bipartisan work to support veterans, including improvements to the VA, increases in benefits and expansion of the GI Bill for education of veterans' families.

In response to another question about what he will do to be accessible going forward and the importance of town halls, Thompson returned to what he's been saying since calls for a town hall began -- that he prefers to talk to people one-on-one and in small groups. He also said he offers monthly telephone town halls which allow him to reach a large number of people.

"I take every step I can for respectful, open, courteous communication," he said. "This past year I’ve probably had 1000 face-to-face meetings with folks.

"I know some here have criticized tele-town halls. I do those once a month and over the past 12 months I've reached out to over half a million households. It’s not the only thing I do. I really prefer the face-to-face. I’m looking for your homegrown solutions. We’re not always going to agree, and I get that point. There’s diversity of opinion and perspectives. I work as hard as anyone to be accessible."

On the opioid crisis

As opioid addiction continues to ravage communities, Bellefonte Borough Councilwoman Joanne Tosti-Vasey noted that President Donald Trump has called it a terrible epidemic while recommending cutting by 96 percent the budget for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has been developing efforts for prevention and treatment.

She asked Thompson to explain the lack of action from the Trump administration and what he will do to help the district and communities around the country.

Thompson agreed that opioid abuse is everywhere and that he has co-sponsored many of the 16 bills passed by the House to address the issue.

"This is an epidemic, and the only way you can address an epidemic is to surround it, and that's what we did," he said.

Bills passed by the house have funded various programs to address different aspects of the crisis, he said.

"This is stealing lives, it's ruining families and quite frankly it's robbing our economy." 

Those bills were packaged in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) signed by President Barack Obama in late 2016.

Thompson also said that research needs to be supported to understand how some people get addicted to opioids so easily and different ways to address pain management.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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