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Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador: Sick people should pay more for health insurance

UPDATED: Fri., May 5, 2017, 7:53 a.m.

Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, shown at a Meridian, Idaho town hall in April in this file photo, said this week that Idaho’s government “needs to be slashed.” Labrador is among those seeking the GOP nomination for governor of Idaho in 2018. (Kyle Green / AP)
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, shown at a Meridian, Idaho town hall in April in this file photo, said this week that Idaho’s government “needs to be slashed.” Labrador is among those seeking the GOP nomination for governor of Idaho in 2018. (Kyle Green / AP)

Health care was the biggest topic at Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador’s heavily attended town hall meetings in Southern Idaho and figures to be high on citizens’ minds again as Labrador convenes another town hall meeting Friday evening in Coeur d’Alene.

Just a day earlier, Labrador joined his colleagues in the conservative House Freedom Caucus – which he co-founded – in switching from opposing GOP legislation designed to repeal and replace Obamacare to voting in favor of the latest version, which now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.

“The people of Idaho know Obamacare is a disaster and want it fully repealed,” Labrador said in a statement after the vote. “Our work is far from done, however. We need to fully repeal Obamacare and I remain committed to doing that. Today’s bill is the best way to eventually get there.”

Labrador has taken positions on health care issues at the earlier town hall meetings that infuriated the big crowds attending, including declaring that he doesn’t believe health care is a right, supporting lower premiums for healthier people and higher premiums for the sick, and saying his “perfect health care system” would provide only low-cost catastrophic coverage, with people paying out-of-pocket for everything else, including preventive care.

During a “Conversations with Conservatives” session with reporters in Washington, D.C., that Labrador chaired earlier this week, Labrador said he expected the Senate to improve the House bill.

“I don’t usually say this about legislation, that it leaves the House in a certain way and it’s going to get better in the Senate,” he said. “But I have a little bit of faith … I think we may end up seeing a better product.”

Nevertheless, he strongly defended the GOP bill that passed the House on Thursday, and sharply criticized the news media for reporting the bill would hurt people with pre-existing health conditions.

“What we’re doing is reducing the cost of health care for most Americans, actually for all Americans, and a few select people will receive subsidies,” he said. “It’s actually a better plan, and we’re not doing anything to hurt anybody with pre-existing conditions.”

He called reporting that suggested the plan would hurt those people “pretty shameful.”

The House-passed bill would allow states to let insurers charge more to insure sick people if they set up high-risk pools, which would help subsidize the higher cost for some of those patients.

The bill provides $8 billion to states specifically to fund those pools over the next five years, along with other funding; an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy think tank, suggested the House bill doesn’t provide enough funding to cover many of the people who could lose coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

Labrador went into more depth on his position on health care during his earlier town hall meetings. In a Meridian meeting that drew more than 700 people, he drew loud boos when he said, “No, I do not believe that health care is a basic right.”

“When something is a right … it’s something that must be provided by the government,” he said. “But I do believe people should have access to health care. … I think we should take care of those people that cannot work, that cannot provide for themselves. I do think we have a responsibility for those people. But if you’re a working person, then we should make it easier and less expensive to you to receive health care.”

At his Nampa town hall meeting, which drew a crowd of 350, Labrador said, “For me, the perfect health care system would be catastrophic health care – you would pay for that at a low premium, and then everybody would pay out of their pocket for all the other needs. … That would drive down the cost of health care tremendously, if people were actually paying out of their pocket, because they would be able to negotiate directly with the doctors.”

When a questioner at the Meridian town hall meeting pressed Labrador on whether he supported incentives for people to stay healthy, he said, “This is one of the fights we’re having, so let me explain a little bit. So the Affordable Care Act right now treats everybody the same, regardless of their health. So if you’re of the same age group, if you’re a healthy young person or a less healthy young person, the Affordable Care Act requires that the insurance companies charge you exactly the same amount of money. I don’t think that’s fair.”

His statement drew a roar from the crowd, along with boos, catcalls and a loud shout of, “That’s how insurance works!”

“That is not how insurance works,” Labrador responded. “That’s actually the opposite of insurance. The way insurance is supposed to work is if you’re healthy, you’re going to get one rate; if you’re a little bit less healthy, you’re going to get another rate.”

Labrador said he wants the ACA’s regulations preventing insurers from charging people more on the basis of age, health status or other factors removed, “so health insurance premiums come down for most Americans.”

“But there’s going to be a group of people that their premiums are going to go up,” he said. “So we need to make sure that we have the subsidy so we can help those people so they can pay for their health insurance.”

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