Ernst faces tough questions on Graham-Cassidy bill at Iowa City town hall


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a town hall meeting in the IMU on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. While Sen. Ernst spoke in the IMU, a protest was held outside in Hubbard Park. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Molly Hunter, [email protected]

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said on Sept. 22 that the Graham-Cassidy health-insurance bill is not likely to get to a vote.

“It seems unlikely that we will be voting on this,” she said. “We have a lot to work through.”

The University of Iowa Student Government held a town hall in the IMU, where Ernst answered questions from Johnson County residents.

“Two members … have stated firmly they will not be supporting [repeal],” Ernst said. “There are likely others.”

The Graham-Cassidy bill, sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would constitute a major overhaul of the Affordable Care Act.

Iowa City resident Trish Nelson asked Ernst how she would vote on Graham-Cassidy in the unlikely event that it does go to a vote. Ernst’s response — that she would have voted “yes” on the bill — was greeted with loud booing from the crowd.

Ernst said bipartisan discussions on a viable solution to the health-insurance crisis began several weeks ago led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the ranking member and chairman of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, respectively, but talks broke down over the last week when Graham-Cassidy came along.

Iowa was specifically asked to participate in the meetings because of the state’s current position in the health-insurance market, Ernst said.

Over the last few months, several individual health-insurance providers have announced their intentions to pull out of Iowa in 2018. Right now, only Medica will be left in the state next year. To stay in Iowa, however, the company has said it may need to increase rates by 43 to 60 percent.

RELATED: Aetna, Wellmark toil health market

Before they fell apart, Ernst said the bipartisan discussions were going well, and that she was hopeful about an agreement.

“We thought we had a number of viable solutions that would solve some of the problems,” she said. “Even the Democrats were saying we need greater flexibility for our states.”

Ernst said Maine has been very innovative in terms of its approach to health care and sets a good example for Iowa.

However, Iowa Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said she doesn’t think putting health care in the hands of state legislators is the right move.

“When she says the states are going take care of pre-existing conditions like Maine did, that’s great it worked in Maine, but unless you make it mandatory that states do that, they’re not going to,” Nielsen said.

Ernst said Alexander presented various ideas based on the weeks of bipartisan discussions, but those options were rejected.

“I thought that we were coming to a consensus,” Ernst said. “And yet at the end of the day they decided, ‘We’re done, we just want more money, we don’t want to allow that greater flexibility.’ I hope that we can resurrect them as we move forward.”

Ernst said the bipartisan discussions may have fallen apart because the Graham-Cassidy bill came up.

“That might be part of it. I don’t know that’s true, but that could have been some of their consideration,” Ernst said. “I’m trying to be generous here.”

Jeffrey Martin, who also attended the town hall, said Republicans were the ones who walked away from the table.

“The efforts that were started with Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray to try to plug some holes in Obamacare were fine, but it was Alexander who walked away from them and blew it up,” Martin said. “So when she said she couldn’t get support for it, in the Republican caucus is where they couldn’t get support for it. It was the Republicans who killed it.”

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