The ramifications of the recent federal government shutdown, confusion about the Affordable Care Act, and the slow pace of immigration reform were key topics at a town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge at the Akron-Summit County Library on Thursday.
About 100 people attended the District 11 forum to hear Fudge’s report and ask questions of the Democratic congresswoman.
Fudge said the shutdown — “a manufactured crisis” created by House Republicans — affected just about everyone in her district on some level.
Research institutions lost federal dollars to continue their work. Food pantries lost resources to help struggling families. Home values fell in all of her communities, she said. And while 42,000 federal workers in Ohio will get back wages, thousands of private contractors will never recoup what they lost.
“When the federal government shut down for 16 days, we all lost something,” Fudge said. “... It was a significant blow to our economy.”
After the government reopened, attention returned to the Oct. 1 rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and the failures of a website that has been plagued by slowdowns and limited functions.
Fudge said she wouldn’t make excuses for the technology glitches, and advised people who are frustrated by the website to “take a deep breath” and step away from it for a while. People have until March 31 to apply for insurance through health-care exchanges.
But people shouldn’t confuse website problems with the plan itself, which is expected to help millions of uninsured Americans get affordable health care, Fudge said.
Advantages of law
She touted the benefits of the ACA: Children can stay on their parents plan until age 26, there is no lifetime cap on benefits, and pre-existing conditions cannot disqualify an applicant.
“Fifty percent of all adults will have a pre-existing condition” in their lifetime, Fudge said, from diabetes to bad acne.
She said she spoke with one couple who lost coverage after their insurance company paid for their in vitro fertilization, then determined that infertility was a pre-existing condition that disqualified them from getting their insurance renewed.
In another case, she said a 2-year-old girl in her district with a heart defect has been unable to get insurance for under $30,000 a year.
Allowing such families to get affordable health care is among the reasons the ACA will be worth the effort despite the troublesome website, she said.
Not everyone present was happy with the ACA, also known as Obamacare. One woman told Fudge that her insurance company canceled her policy, saying it didn’t meet ACA standards that required the 62-year-old be provided with maternity and child-care coverage, and that the new replacement policy would cost the woman $400 more a month.
Fudge said insurance providers are required to meet a minimum level of coverage, but they should not be charging a premium for maternity and child-care insurance.
After the woman revealed she had not gone to the ACA website to check prices on the health-care exchanges, Fudge suggested she do that and then report to her what she learned.
Fudge said 75 percent of Americans shouldn’t see any significant changes to their health-care plans and coverage.
During a question-and-answer session, a Latino group advocate asked Fudge to investigate overzealous federal agents that have been deporting undocumented fathers in Akron, leaving behind single mothers with American-born children struggling to make ends meet.
President Barack Obama has said he didn’t want U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “tearing families apart,” said Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of the Akron chapter of HOLA. She attended with about 20 people, mostly women and children, wearing matching yellow T-shirts.
Wife, kids left behind
In one recent case, ICE deported a father with no record who had been living in the country for 20 years and owned a home. For the past year, his wife has been caring for their three American-born children on her own without the family’s breadwinner.
“Who is holding ICE accountable so they start following Obama’s policy?” Dahlberg said.
Fudge said she would assign a staff member to get details on that and other cases from Dahlberg, but noted it would probably be impossible to rectify a situation in which the father is already physically out of the country.
Fudge said that while many House Republicans “don’t want a path to citizenship,” she was confident that if House Speaker John Boehner ever brought immigration reform “to the floor, it would pass.”
There are 11 million undocumented people living in America, Fudge said, “and it’s not smart economically or morally to pretend they don’t exist.”