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Health care dominates town hall.

Byline: Derek Maiolo The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - In his first Eugene- Springfield area town hall meeting since the Republican health care bill passed the U.S. House to reach the Senate, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., firmly rejected the GOP legislation before the crowd that filled the Springfield High School gymnasium.

"This is a tax windfall for the fortunate few masquerading as a health care bill," he said.

An analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act by the liberal- leaning Center For American Progress found that the bill's average annual cut to the federal tax on investments for an estimated 2,760 Oregon millionaires would be $34,584.

For an hour and a half, Wyden answered questions from the audience that ranged from health care to Trump's ties to the Russian government.

"No subjects are off limits," he told the crowd, which filled rows of folding chairs on the gym floor and overflowed into the side bleachers.

The event is part of Wyden's pledge to hold town hall meetings in each of Oregon's 36 counties.

Discussion about the GOP health care bill dominated the meeting.

Eugene resident Jay Trunnell opened the floor discussion with his personal experience with the health care system under the Affordable Care Act. Since 2015, Trunnell has been battling leukemia and colon and liver cancer, which would be considered pre-existing conditions under the GOP bill.

He has been receiving subsidies through the ACA to help cover the costs of his treatments, which he said would cost him $35,000 a month without government assistance. He feared that if the Senate votes to repeal the ACA, he no longer would be able to afford his treatments.

"I should not have to die so that some wealthy person can have a tax cut," he said.

Republican senators have remained secretive about their deliberations over the proposed bill, with much of their discussions limited to closed-door Republican meetings.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that 22 million fewer Americans would have health insurance over the next decade if the Senate bill were passed, and polls show that as few as 17 percent of Americans support the plan.

For his part, Wyden said he wants to improve the health care system by stabilizing the private insurance industry and stopping escalating drug prescription costs. He also pointed to Section 1332 of the ACA, which he helped draft. It allows individual states to enact their own health care policies without any additional federal legislation.

"If a state wants to do better than the Affordable Care Act, they can do that," he said.

He supports a single-payer health insurance system that would make health insurance a public service.

Wyden was interrupted several times when he discussed the difficulties in passing and funding a single-payer health bill. Members of the Democratic Socialists of America shouted that the senator needed to push harder for such reforms. Others blurted critiques over a socialized health care system.

Several audience members left the meeting after hearing Wyden's stance on health care.

It is not yet clear when the Senate will propose a repeal vote of the ACA, but Wyden said he expects a vote as early as Tuesday.

Another top concern from audience members was the investigations into Trump's ties with the Russian government. Some feared that Senate Intelligence Committee heading one investigation would let political pressure stall findings. Wyden, who is one of the longest- serving members of the committee, assured the crowd that the Senate investigation would yield results over Russia's potential meddling in the 2016 presidential race and the Trump family's ties with Russian investors.

"I will not let this get swept under the rug," he said of the investigation.

Other issues raised by audience members included the future of the Electoral College, which Wyden supports abolishing, and Oregon's low high school graduation rates, which are among the worst in the nation.

On this point, Wyden advocated for the expansion in public schools of STEM, which denotes the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. He added that schools need to take a more interdisciplinary approach to STEM education and to include the arts into such curriculums, which have come to be known as STEAM.

His support of a science and math education supplemented by the liberal arts garnered applause from the crowd.

As Wyden concluded the town hall meeting, members of the Democratic Socialists of America chanted, "Single-payer now! Single-payer now!" in support of publicized health care.

Follow Derek on Twitter @derek_maiolo. Email
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Title Annotation:Politics; Sen. Ron Wyden holds a meeting in Springfield and talk turns repeatedly to medical coverage
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 9, 2017
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