Telegraph Herald: Blum faces hostile crowd during town hall in hometown

U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, met a hostile crowd Monday night in his hometown while fielding questions on topics ranging from health care and immigration to school vouchers and climate change.

He took the podium to a mix of cheers, boos and applause from a crowd of about 1,000 at Dubuque Senior High School. After making an introductory statement, Blum took questions from crowd members selected at random during the town hall event.

The two-term incumbent from Dubuque faced regular interruptions from shouted questions, stomping feet and boos when delivering answers in support of last week’s U.S. House of Representatives bill repealing and replacing major provisions of the federal health care law known as Obamacare. The House passed the bill, with Blum being among those who cast votes in its favor.

Blum argued the legislation will stabilize the health care market, lower premiums and increase choices, while protecting the sick by setting aside more than $120 billion to assist Americans with pre-existing conditions.

“The bill is better than what we have,” Blum said to a chorus of boos.

A resident asked Blum, “What was the rush?” in approving the bill prior to an independent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Blum said the process was rushed, but that there was an urgent need for a fix to Obamacare, noting two of Iowa’s largest insurers will stop selling individual policies in the state beginning in 2018. And Iowa’s remaining carrier of individual health insurance policies announced last week it might do the same.

“I have always said the process was bad, that it was rushed,” Blum said. “We should not rush and (should) try to make it bipartisan and get Democrats on board. … (but) we had to do something (with insurers pulling out of the individual marketplace).”

He also argued that “nothing changes” with Medicare and Medicaid under the House-backed legislation and with those who purchase individual plans, so long as there is no lapse in their insurance coverage.

“Does it take care of the people the (Affordable Care Act) takes care of? And the answer is, ‘Yes,’” Blum said to boos.

The bill would allow states to seek waivers from certain ACA requirements for plans sold on the individual market. The waivers would enable insurers to charge older individuals up to five times as much as young people. It also would grant states the ability to exempt insurers from a list of essential health benefits mandated by the ACA and set their own criteria.

Insurers still would be prohibited from setting premiums based on health status and denying coverage to someone with a pre-existing condition. However, those who do not maintain continuous coverage could be charged higher premiums for a pre-existing condition.

The House bill sets aside $8 billion over five years to help states cover those who might be subject to higher insurance rates because they have had a lapse in coverage. That’s on top of about $100 billion over a decade for states to help lower out-of-pocket costs and set up high-risk pools.

“What that does for everyone else that’s in the high-risk pool, their premiums are going to come down substantially,” Blum said. “We’re talking 20 to 40 percent. They’re paying more because they’re paying for high risk. … And the government then comes in and buys down their premiums to an affordable level. I personally think that’s a great idea so we can lower premiums for everybody.”

Health experts warn the bill would hit the poor and disabled hard, with about $880 billion in cuts over 10 years to Medicaid. The bill would roll back Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid and put a per-capita cap on federal dollars to states.

“Where’s the $588 billion you took from Medicare?” a woman yelled from the crowd, approaching Blum.

Dubuque Police Chief Mark Dalsing stepped up to keep her from walking toward Blum.

Blum drew applause for saying wages need to go up by way of tax reform, but drew some jeers when stating the U.S. needs to secure the southern border. The comments sparked chants of “No Wall!” and “Build that wall!”

“We spend billions and billions of dollars on illegal immigration that depress Americans wages” and fuels drug and human trafficking in the U.S., he said.

On climate change, Blum acknowledged that the planet is warming, but he elicited boos when he followed that by saying the “planet has been a lot warmer than this and has been a lot cooler than this” and that Americans “underestimate the planet’s ability to cool itself.”

He also criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for “overreach” with its Waters of the United States regulations. Blum said the U.S needs to be mindful of not damaging the economy while still taking care of the environment.

Event attendees had to RSVP and provide a valid ID and documentation proving they were residents of Iowa’s 1st District. Signs and banners also were not allowed.

Blum had been critical of activists who jeered, booed and interrupted other congressional representatives from the state at similar town hall events.

However, before his event, Blum said the ID provision was implemented due to seating capacity.

Blum’s office capped registration of the event at about 1,000 — which is what one side of the high school gymnasium could accommodate, according to his staff.

“We didn’t know how many people we would end up with, and we wanted to make sure – we just think it’s common sense – that people who are here are from our district,” Blum said. “We would hate to have someone not be able to come tonight because someone from Chicago, for example, was here instead.”