BATON ROUGE — A town hall meeting held by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy to talk about flood recovery in Louisiana’s capital city was at times derailed Friday by people trying to pressure the Republican to vote against the Senate GOP’s proposed rewrite of the national health care bill.
Cassidy, a doctor who worked for years in Louisiana’s charity hospital system, remained noncommittal about the Senate version of the health bill, though he’s criticized similar legislation passed by the House.
He told those assembled at a north Baton Rouge church that he wasn’t sure what the final draft of the legislation might look like, as negotiations continue behind closed doors by Senate Republican leaders trying to rally votes.
“I am doing my best to make sure that we continue coverage, care for those with pre-existing conditions, eliminate mandates and lower premiums,” Cassidy said.
Asked about the secrecy with which the bill was pieced together, the senator replied directly: “I do not defend the process. I don’t. I just don’t.”
His answers dissatisfied several people assembled in the church who spoke against repealing the federal health law on the books and described Republican proposals as an effort to give large tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of poor people’s coverage. At times, audience members chanted over Cassidy’s answers and shouted that he was evading the health questions.
Cassidy bristled, telling the audience: “If you wish to chant and keep others from being able to speak or to be heard, that is actually not civil, and I ask you, respect the right of others both to speak and to be heard. Please.”
At one point, one man told Cassidy to loud applause: “I’ll tell you what’s rude: Kicking 22 million people off their health care in this country,” referencing a Congressional Budget Office finding that the Senate GOP leadership’s draft bill would result in that many people losing health insurance over the next decade.
Most of the meeting centered on flood recovery, but as Cassidy wrapped up the hourlong town hall, a group chanted about the health bill, “Vote no! Vote no!”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, opposes the Senate draft proposal and has urged Cassidy and Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy to vote against the measure. Kennedy also hasn’t said how he’ll vote, but Cassidy has faced more pressure from outside groups because he’s shown more reticence to the House-approved version.
Edwards’ heaviest criticisms center on the plan to significantly shrink spending on the traditional Medicaid program for low-income, disabled and elderly people and to phase out extra money given to states that expanded their Medicaid programs to cover the working poor.
Louisiana expanded its Medicaid program when Edwards took office last year, and 430,000 people have enrolled in the coverage. On Friday, Cassidy described the current Medicaid expansion structure as unsustainable for taxpayers and states. He suggested more people should be moved to private insurance.