COVINGTON, La. — Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy couldn’t convince a crowd of Louisianans on Wednesday morning that the GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would make the health care system any better.
Cassidy, one of only two Senate Republicans holding town hall meetings during this week’s congressional recess, faced a barrage of questions about the GOP repeal effort, as well as his own alternative plan.
“We have to address the fact that the Affordable Care Act has become unaffordable for many Americans,” the first-term senator said. “Will it be easy? No. On the other hand, that’s the challenge we have.”
Cassidy repeatedly touted the health plan he drafted with Sen. Susan Collins, which would allow states to keep their existing Obamacare arrangements or set up a health plan of their choice. But the pitch fell flat with the liberal-leaning crowd that packed a school board meeting room in conservative St. Tammany Parish, about 40 miles north of New Orleans. One person in the crowd of more than 200 people shouted that Cassidy’s plan “isn’t going to happen.” The overflow crowd that didn’t make it inside and watched a livestream in the sticky Louisiana heat at one point shouted so loudly they could be heard inside the room.
Those in the room — who wrote questions on notecards beforehand — demanded that Cassidy commit to voting for a plan that covers the uninsured, preserves birth control coverage and provides health care coverage — not just access.
Cassidy, a gastroenterologist who spent much of his career working in Louisiana’s charity hospital system, leaned heavily on his medical background to rebut criticisms a Republican plan that does away with the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandates would result in weak coverage.
“I’m a doctor. I worked in a hospital for the uninsured and the poorly insured,” he said. “I understand coverage matters. And so that’s my goal.”
Cassidy has repeatedly said that his goal is to live up to President Donald Trump’s “contract” with the voter: that any health plan preserves pre-existing condition protections, eliminates burdensome Obamacare mandates, reduces premiums and ensures continuous coverage.
But even Cassidy acknowledged that Trump may not be the best messenger on health care.
“Let’s just face it, his personality is off-putting, so some are going to dislike him no matter what. But I think we need to look beyond a perception and to what is his goal,” Cassidy said. “He’s got some policies out there that actually all Americans should support, who doesn’t want infrastructure? Who doesn’t want those health care goals?”