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Experts weigh in on Affordable Care Act, health care at town hall meeting

The future of the Affordable Care Act and health care loomed over a town hall meeting hosted by Democratic Congressman Bill Foster, D-Naperville, last week at Presence St. Joseph Medical Center.

Talk of the potential repeal of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, brought in a number of people to discuss concerns and raise questions.

“The decision by the Senate republicans to delay their vote is a direct response to the things constituents have expressed with what’s about to happen to their health care if the senate bill passes,” Foster said.

Typically, the process of passing a health care bill requires lawmakers to formulate a proposal in the House and another version in the Senate. They will be merged together, and there will be a vote in both the House and Senate in an effort to agree on a compromise.

Foster stressed that unfortunately, neither proposal is acceptable to millions of Americans.

The forum featured discussion by a number of experts from health care professions, including Dr. Kathleen Burke, director of Substance Abuse Initiatives of Will County; A.J. Wilhelmi, president and CEO of the Illinois Hospital Association; Courtney Hedderman, associate state director of advocacy and outreach for AARP; and Perry Maier, executive director of Open Door Health Center Illinois.

Also speaking on the panel was Joliet resident Clarice Hearne who shared her story. The 11th district constituent has dealt with depression and cancer.

Hearne said she struggled to find adequate coverage earlier in her life while working as an adjunct professor, for nonprofits, and in administrative positions, and it wasn’t until later when she acquired a full-time job at the University of St. Francis that she attained the healthcare insurance she needed.

When the ACA was passed shortly thereafter, Hearne recalls hearing gratitude expressed by several of her colleagues.

Hearne retired from her full-time job in 2015 and switched over to Medicare to meet her health care needs. Around that time, she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time.

Hearne said she felt lucky to get the coverage she qualified for based on being over age 65.

“Because of Medicare, I only had to pay about 5 percent,” she said. “Medicare coverage about 95 percent.”

Hearne said she knows there are people who are just as needy who may not qualify for Medicare the way she does and questioned if the system seems fair.

“I sincerely believe that adequate health care is a human right, not a commodity to be sold on the market place,” she said.

Several attendees and panelists questioned the agenda of Republicans in Congress, argued the bill would increase costs to patients and discussed the need for improved veterans heath care.

Foster wanted to thank the public for their willingness to attend the town hall meeting and said their input is critical.

“That is why it’s so important that people have come out and engaged them in discussions, like we’re having today, and to make sure that congress understands the implications of what they’re voting on,” Foster said. “Because it’s easy to sit in Washington and just say, ‘OK, they’re arguing about a budget numbers, and we’re going to cut this by some billions of dollars.”

Foster voted against the repeal bill in May, at which point the measured passed in a vote by the House.