U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne got an earful about health insurance Wednesday during a town hall meeting at Daphne City Hall.
Byrne (R-Fairhope) is holding 11 town hall meetings in six counties in his district in four days this week. Whether some the standing-room-only turnout of 175 were part of a political party or other organized interest group or not, many people had written out their detailed health insurance questions and horror stories in advance. As Republicans seek to dismantle Obamacare and come up with something else, for this group paying for health care was by far their top issue.
“Here is the truth,” said Byrne. “The health insurance exchanges around America are falling apart.” By the end of the year parts of Tennessee and Mississippi will have none available, he said, and the Affordable Care Act will be “totally meaningless to them.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama is the only insurer participating in the ACA in this state. It has gone up dramatically on premiums and deductibles but Byrne said it is still losing money. In his district, 5 percent of residents participate in ACA and they are about to lose their insurance, he said.
“I’m going to do everything I can to find a replacement for Obamacare that works for everybody in America, not just the 5 percent but the 95 percent, too.”
One woman told Byrne of paying a $1,200 monthly family premium and having a $10,000 deductible.
Spanish Fort City Councilwoman Mary Brabner said her son turned 27 and came off the family health insurance. They got insurance for him, but couldn’t find a doctor in Mobile or Baldwin counties to serve as a primary care physician.
Byrne said fewer and fewer doctors are willing to take Medicaid patients. In Escambia County, only one pediatrician is accepting Medicaid patients.
“What we need is real competition in our health markets,” Byrne said. One Republican bill would make buying health insurance like buying car insurance — consumers could pick the quote that works best for them, he said.
In response to questions, Byrne touched on other subjects of local interest:
The Mobile River Bridge. The price tag will likely end up north of $1 billion, Byrne said. Widening the Bayway is part of the project, and transportation authorities now realize the wider spans can’t exit abruptly at Daphne. “We’re figuring out that we’ve got to engineer not just crossing the river, not just the spans, but we’ve got to figure out a way to make that traffic gradually fold into I-10 here east of Mobile Bay.”
Planners are still finishing the final environmental impact study. The state also has to come up with its share of the money, but there are a couple of sources that could be available.
“I know that problem is getting worse rather than better,” Byrne said. “Here we are in April. May is just around the corner. You know what that means. You might as well stay home Saturday and Sunday and Friday afternoon. You can’t move around on Interstate 10. It’s going to be a six-year build. If we push that green button today, it’s six years from now.”
Environmental protection budget cuts. Byrne said what appears in President Donald Trump’s “skinny” budget doesn’t have much detail. “Here’s the truth. I hope I don’t offend the president, but we never accept the president’s budget.” The real work gets done in appropriations bills, he said.
Byrne said he’ll focus on protecting the waters and woods of southwest Alabama. There are many Republican congressmen and women in the same position, who want to protect environmentally sensitive areas in their own districts. “Will I stand up for programs that mean so much down here? Of course I am.”