Burlington County Times

Protesters Plan Rally At MacArthur Gathering

Burlington County Times — May 9, 2017

By David Levinsky, staff writer

Congressman Tom MacArthur is back from Washington and planning to hold his first town hall meeting since he helped revive the Republicans' controversial legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

MacArthur should expect a cold reception from opponents ofthe GOP effort, who plan to stage a protest rally before and during Wednesday's event at the John F. Kennedy Center on Kennedy Way in Willingboro.

The town hall is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., and protesters plan to begin their rally outside about 5, according to New Jersey Citizen Action, which is helping to organize the demonstration.

The group is one of several liberal groups that have organized opposition to pressure New Jersey's Republican members of Congress to reject the party's health care overhaul bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, became the groups' chief target since he first voiced support for the measure last month. But the opposition intensified after he authored an amendment that revived the legislation after it nearly sank several weeks ago.

The amendment allows states to seek a waiver from some, but not all, of the Affordable Care Act's requirements for insurance plans. While the amendment specifies that insurers cannot refuse coverage to people based on pre-existing medical conditions, it does permit states to ask for a waiver of a rule restricting them from pricing consumers differently based on health status, provided they also create or participate in a "high-risk pool" to ensure sick people can still obtain affordable coverage.

Thanks in part to MacArthur's effort, the House narrowly approved the bill last week by a vote of 217-213, close to the bare minimum needed for passage.

New Jersey Citizen Action cited MacArthur's role in a Facebook post announcing Wednesday's protest.

"The reason the American Health Care Act was even considered again is because of Tom MacArthur," the group said. "When everyone considered the bill dead, Tom MacArthur continued negotiating with the Trump administration and the far right Freedom Caucus to cut a deal that could get a bill passed. That deal, the MacArthur Amendment, makes what was already a cruel and harmful bill even worse."

In addition to the planned protest, Save My Care, a liberal group that has paid for several digital and TV ads attacking MacArthur for his role in the health care overhaul, announced Monday that it will begin running a new ad that reflects the House vote.

"MacArthur voted 'yes' even though the bill makes coverage completely unaffordable to people with pre-existing conditions," says a voiceover during the spot. "Congressman MacArthur, how could you do this to us?"

MacArthur has maintained that people with pre-existing conditions would continue to be protected under his amendment, and that it would also provide states with some flexibility so that insurers can offer less expensive health plans.

Without action, he said, the individual insurance marketplace could implode as increasing numbers of insurers leave state markets and reduce consumer choices.

"I respect that other people may see things differently, but I believe if we don't fix this soon, the individual marketplace will collapse and a lot of people will get hurt," MacArthur said last month.

The congressman announced his town hall on April 27, saying that maintaining his accessibility to his constituents was a top priority and that he looked forward to a discussion of "issues of critical importance to the community."

His decision to hold the event in Willingboro surprised some, as the town is known as Burlington County's largest Democratic stronghold. He received just 12 percent of the vote there last year and only 11 percent in 2014.

Ninety percent of the town's electorate voted for President Barack Obama in 2012. President Donald Trump received just 9 percent.

MacArthur's only other in-person town hall this year was held in Waretown, Ocean County. It drew a substantial number of constituents concerned about Trump's promise to repeal and replace "Obamacare."

The American Health Care Act was introduced the same night.

Following the House approval, the debate on health care shifts to the Senate, and some Republican senators have already said they plan substantial changes from the House-approved bill.

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