U.S. Rep. Michael C. Burgess, to a crowd of hundreds, answered questions concerning health care, President Donald Trump and more in a town hall meeting. Despite other representatives cancelling town hall meetings recently, Burgess scheduled the event and answered questions for over an hour and a half.
The town hall took place at Marcus High School Saturday, March 4. The predominant issues brought forth by attendees concerned the planned repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The ACA, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010, aimed to expand healthcare coverage, control costs, and improve the overall system. It also required that most citizens have health insurance.
Trump’s plan to repeal the ACA has been met with mixed reviews mostly along partisan lines, and Burgess faced backlash at the town hall meeting over the subject. Despite receiving boos from the audience Burgess defended his decision to support repealing the ACA and a planned reconciliation plan.
“I would eliminate the individual mandate because I don’t believe it has a place in a free society,” he said.
The reconciliation bill would be similar to the 2015-2016 bill that was passed by the House and Senate but vetoed by Obama, Burgess said. The bill would include relief of the penalties for the mandates and employer mandates, restructuring of taxes that were passed in the ACA, additional money being put into community health centers and the likely diminishment of the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
The current Prevention and Public Health Fund plans to allocate almost a billion dollars in fiscal year 2017 from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The fund was established under the ACA and was setup to provide expanded investments in prevention and public health, according to HHS.
Contraceptives for women would not be covered under the reconciliation bill, Burgess said. When asked about a plan for contraceptives being covered going forward, Burgess said that it was something congress would look at, but made no concrete statement about, a response that was met with jeering from the audience.
In addition to concerns over the ACA repeal, children and children’s health insurance was also an issue addressed by Burgess. In Texas 9 percent of children are uninsured, which puts Texas as one of the five worst states for uninsured children. Burgess was asked what he would do to try and fix this.
Burgess mentioned the State Children’s Health Insurance Program legislation he sponsored in 2007. SCHIP was originally created in 1997, to assist families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but don’t have access to affordable insurance. Burgess’ act corrected a failure in the original legislation he said. In multiple states, more adults were benefiting from the program than children. The updated legislation prohibited SCHIP funding to any non-pregnant adult.
“A dollar spent on a non-pregnant adult is a dollar that isn’t spent on a needy child,” Burgess’ house website said of the update.
He vowed to fight to keep annual and lifetime caps on medical coverage prohibited. Under current law insurance companies cannot cap yearly or lifetime medical spending that is considered an essential health benefit. He mentioned legislation that he is behind that is aimed to help speed up the health care process.
The school voucher debate has become a contentious issue for the Trump presidency, especially since the appointment of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Burgess was asked if he would support school vouchers if the private schools receiving them would be exempt from following the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
“If the government’s providing resources there are guidelines, that was true under no child left behind,” he said.
One of those guidelines would be to follow the IDEA, Burgess said. The IDEA was passed in 2004 and was designed to ensure services to children with disabilities.
Attendees addressed Burgess campaign finances. He was questioned on if he was beholden to medical industry lobbyist and if that was contributing to his support of repealing the ACA.
During Burgess’ run for reelection in 2014 he received over $600,000 of support from donors in the medical field. That was over half of his total money raised in that election cycle, a point that a questioner pointed out.
Burgess defended his fundraising information by pointing out the relatively low amount of total money he raised and highlighting that his support doesn’t come with strings attached.
“They don’t support me expecting me to support them,” he said. “They support me because they believe what I believe.”
Burgess has consistently fallen below his other representatives in money raised since his election in 2002. In the 8 elections that Burgess has been in office for, he averages about 67 percent as much money raised as his fellow representatives, according to Opensecrets.org. Burgess attributed this to not being swayed by donors.
President Trump’s tax returns were a point of contention between Burgess and the town hall audience. After being asked about Trump turning over his taxes to the general public, Burgess said that President Trump was currently being audited by the IRS and that there was no law that would require him to release any information regarding his taxes against his will. This was met with chants of “change the law” from multiple members of the audience.
“I want you to stop and think about that for a second,” Burgess said. “If the United States Congress coerced the president into releasing that they could do the same to anyone of you.”
Burgess’ comment was met with disdain from the majority of the crowd. he went on to state that President Trump filled out financial disclosure forms to prevent any conflicts of interest, and that President Trump’s tax information wasn’t necessary. This response was also met with disapproval by the majority of the audience.
The media, and specifically President Trump’s relationship with it were addressed by Burgess. While he said he did not believe the media was the enemy of the people, he did have some criticism for it.
“I will tell you that there are times where I think that the responsibility of the media has been abrogated,” he said. “And there were plenty of times in the 14 years I’ve been in office where I’ve wondered why things weren’t more fairly and accurately reported.”