Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - Updated: 8:51 AM
Residents from throughout Trigg County and beyond turned out Wednesday for a town hall style meeting with Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), at the Renaissance Center in Cadiz.
Comer, U.S. Representative for the first congressional district of Kentucky, has been making the rounds in recent weeks, selecting 12 counties in which to conduct the meetings to give area residents a chance to weigh in on issues on the national stage.
"We have a lot of problems in America," Comer told those in attendance. "And one bill is not going to solve that problem. It's going to take a lot of people working together. I don't think I have to tell anyone -- whether you're Republican or Democrat, whether you're conservative or liberal, whether you live in town or out in the country -- we need to come together as a nation."
Attendees seized on the opportunity to present their concerns to Comer, directing pointed questions on health care, tax reform Internet privacy, budget cut proposals and Syria.
Health care, in particular, dominated the conversation for the day. Comer told the audience that while health care was in poor shape prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act -- commonly referred to as "Obamacare" -- the state and nation could not afford to maintain the system as it was passed. In particular, he said, Medicaid expansion threatened to bankrupt Kentucky.
"I believe in Medicaid," Comer said. "There is a need for Medicaid. Medicaid was set up to help poor children, to help people with disabilities to have health care. What has happened with Obamacare, and in Kentucky specifically, if you went on KyNect Ã¢ Â¦ 84 percent of the people who went on KyNect ended up on Medicaid. So we had this huge expansion of Medicaid in Kentucky, where over half a million people got on expanded Medicaid. Ã¢ Â¦ to the tune of where we are today, we have about 30 percent of the state on Medicaid.
"Kentucky cannot afford to have 30 percent of the state on Medicaid," Comer added. "When the expansion started three years ago Ã¢ Â¦ that was good for the first three years. People got health care, they went to the doctor. Ã¢ Â¦ The federal government retained the bill the first three years. Now, we're in the fourth year, and on that expanded Medicaid the state is going to have to start paying, 7, 9, 10 percent over the next three years, and increase their part on that Medicaid expansion. Ten percent on a half million people will bankrupt the state of Kentucky. So we have a Medicaid program that is not sustainable."
Still, solutions proposed by the GOP did not sit well with some. An unnamed constituent from Paducah, asked Comer to consider the causes behind health care woes. The constituent said she, along with her husband, son and daughter-in-law, operate a small family farm. While she and her husband now fall under the umbrella of Medicare, her son was not so fortunate.
"With my son, eight years ago he was paying $600 a month for insurance with a $2,500 deductible," she said. "So he didn't have anything done, no tests. Then, when Obamacare came, he went on KyNect and got $300 a month with $500 deductible. He started his tests and regular exams. Well now, because he didn't before, he's got some issues. Ã¢ Â¦ If Obamacare's gone, he's not going to be able to afford insurance. So, what we need is a single-payer plan like Medicare.
"Why are we the only industrialized country that does not have a national health care program?" she added. "Canada does, England does, Denmark, why are we so resistant to that? You've got to understand -- why are people on Medicaid? Because they can't afford the premiums. So don't lash out at the victims. Look at why we're doing it. We're putting in an insurance company to be a third party to siphon off that money Ã¢ Â¦ and then it's the people that can't afford to pay that they're needing Medicaid, and then you're saying 'We're going to vote against Medicaid,' oh please don't do that. We need a single payer-system."
At times, the meeting ran tense. Constituents dressed in pink shirts -- a visible protest against President Donald Trump -- sat in the front row, but some of those with the biggest bone to pick were members of the local Republican party. Trigg County resident Jim Kilcoyne does not support socialized health care, but expressed anger that GOP congress members had come up with no viable solution in the years since the ACA had been implemented.
"The Republican party is sitting up there doing nothing," Kilcoyne said. "They did manage to pass a law that said you could sell my information to an Internet company, yes, and you voted for it -- who did you talk to that said that was a good idea? Because nobody thinks it is. Ã¢ Â¦ For eight years I heard we're going to repeal Obamacare. Now we're going to repeal and replace it. I don't want it replaced. Let's get back to the free market system, here. Now that the Republicans are in charge, they have no plan. None whatsoever. Eight years, and they have no plan. So, you come down here now. Why do you want me to continue to vote? I've been a Republican since I've been 13 years old, but I tell you I can't continue to vote for Republicans that do nothing or stand there and cheer and watch as the Democrats destroy the country."
Others expressed concern about Trump's proposals to cut the budget. Local attorney Geneva Parris said she was concerned about the direction the country would take federal funding ended for the Public Broadcasting System and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities, as outlined in Trump's first budget proposal.
"Sitting up here is the Janice Mason Art Museum," Parris said. "Now, I'm on that board. We receive funding every year that comes from that organization. Right now, I'm proud to say my granddaughter's painting is on the front wall. I believe it enriches every community to have the arts. It also stimulates conversation about issues. Artists are often ahead of the curve on what should be issues.
"This community also has Land Between the Lakes," she added. "I go there once a week. I drive through. It is very important to me that we continue providing funds adequately to serve that facility and to be true to the residents that were displaced, so that that's there for everyone to enjoy, and also to serve our children and all the schools that go there. Ã¢ Â¦ Don't forget that all these things he's put down zero for make a big difference in our everyday lives in this county."
Comer said even with the cuts Trump had proposed the budget still wasn't balanced, despite public outcry to balance the nation's finances. Comer said programs he personally supported were on that chopping block as well.
"I support the Meals on Wheels program, that's a huge, huge public service in Monroe County, where I live," Comer said. "One good thing that happened, when he proposed cutting the Meals on Wheels, they had the biggest single day they've ever had in private donations. I think in the future what's going to have to happen whether we like it or not, budgets are going to get tighter and tighter. Ã¢ Â¦ What's going to have to happen, with tax reform, we're going to have to make sure there's still charitable giving and people are incentivized to donate to private charities and things like that."
Comer also held meetings in nearby Lyon, Christian, Todd and Union counties, among other locations, on the tour.