Dems discuss health care at Norwalk forum

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich), second from left, discusses Republican attempts last year to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) listen, Friday at Norwalk Hospital.

Updated, 7:17 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. — Democratic elected officials heard about Norwalk health care and discussed their hopes for the future at a forum held Friday at Norwalk Hospital.

The hour-long round table, attended by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich), and State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), often referenced the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare”.  Murphy and Himes touted the ACA and heard from health care providers regarding the law’s local impacts.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

A woman who identified herself as working with the Open Door Shelter told the panel that when the shelter’s clients have access to healthcare they are more likely to keep their jobs and less likely to return to the shelter.

“We have found working with our healthcare partners that emergency room visits have dropped by 65 percent (due to the Affordable Care Act) because they have been able to get the care they need, when they need it, in the way that is most appropriate for them,” she said.

Personal bankruptcies have been cut in half over the last six years, Murphy said.  Before the ACA more than half of bankruptcies were caused by medical debt, he added.

“It’s not that there is no one who goes into bankruptcy because of medical debt but we have lopped 750,000 personal bankruptcies off of the court system,” Murphy said.


System ‘requires some tweaks’

“Healthcare continues to be a very, very important issue to all of our constituents … and it causes a fair amount of stress,” Duff (D-25) said. “… Those of us who are legislators know, when you do such a large piece of legislation, and especially the Affordable Care Act, it takes such a large part of the economy, that it requires, conversations, it requires some tweaks and some changes, and unfortunately we have not seen that because there has been some gridlock, as we know.”

A woman commented that there are illnesses that don’t respond to pills but respond to lifestyle changes, and a system is needed to create a successful approach.

The Obama Administration was working on that but President Donald Trump’s former Health Secretary Tom Price “pulled apart the work for reimbursement systems” that would have supported holistic health work, Murphy said.


Norwalk program seeks cost reductions

Norwalk Hospital has a program that follows frequent visitors to the Emergency Room, said Eileen Kardos, High Risk Navigator at Western Connecticut Health Network.

“We have definitely kind of adopted the mentality that if we are really going to reduce our health care costs it is really going to come down to changing the definition of health, from being the absence of medical systems and disease to really incorporating health to address all of our social determinates,” she said, speaking of socially and medically complex patients.

By “stabilizing them socially, we have ended up reducing the amount of patients coming to our emergency room,” Kardos said.

“I think the idea of ‘what is healthcare?’ is a fundamental question that we are not equipped to deal with at this point,” Murphy said. “So, we will pay for all of the consequences for not getting the healthy meal which can be in the millions of dollars per person, but we won’t pay for the couple of bucks a day it might cost to get that person access to food, it doesn’t make sense.”


Hopes for the future

“We are in interesting moment… when it comes to things like Medicaid and the way people actually get their healthcare, in a city like Norwalk, it is very much a shared responsibility, shared resources, shared oversight and jurisdictions between the state and the federal government. Medicaid in particular is that way,” Himes said, noting that his 10 years in Congress have been defined by a debate around healthcare.

“I really do feel like we’ve made a lot of progress but we obviously have a long way to go,” Himes said.  He added that the G.O.P. “got a little dose of reality” when it tried to repeal Obamacare and found out how “complicated and important it is to people.”

The country is now at “a point where we can open a discussion,” Himes said.

“I am a little less optimistic than Jim is about the ability to try to suck some of the political venom out of this issue come next January, in large part because the president seems to every week come up with new and creative ways to try to destabilize the existing health care system,” Murphy replied. “It’s kind of hard to figure out what the root causes are of his crusade… other than he’s mad that the system has President Obama’s signature on it, and though he promised to repeal it, because as Jim said, of popular backlash to the repeal, that he wasn’t able to get it done.”


Prescription drugs

A participant asked the legislators to talk about Medicare and negotiated prices for prescriptions.

When Medicare was expanded to include the drug benefit under the Bush administration, the “big ugly negotiation” resulted in a “bit odd” commitment to not to use the power of bulk buying to negotiate better prices, Himes said.  This, he said, is why drugs are less expensive in Canada, and the net effect is that Americans subsidize prices in other countries.

“Republicans spend a lot of time lecturing the country about running government like a business… This is an example of a restriction on the government that you would never ever foist on a business, the inability to use your bulk purchasing power to try to drive down the costs,” Murphy said.


Thoughts from Republicans

Duff, Himes, and Murphy are seeking reelection this year.  They join Democrats nationwide in campaigning on healthcare issues.  

Murphy’s Republican challenger is businessman Mathew Corey, who addresses the ACA in a statement on his website:

“We all agree health care cost is on the rise. We should allow the purchase of health insurance across state lines. We also need tort reform. Doctors are under tremendous strain and rising costs of performing their job. There should be no discrimination on purchasing health care with preexisting conditions which the states should subsidize through cost effective Medicaid programs. The health care exchanges are in place. Let the free market compete in these exchanges so the American people can get the best rates. We also need to create large pools so individuals can get the best rates available. This should include creating policies to cater to individual needs to get more people to sign up.”


Himes’s Republican challenger is investment analyst Harry Arora, who states on his website that healthcare has become unaffordable since the ACA was passed, and premiums, deductibles and copays have increased.

The ACA “broke the insurance market by including non-insurable risk,” Arora’s statement says.  “The correct solution is to create a separate pool for those with pre-existing conditions and subsidize that pool.  As a result, those with preexisting conditions would still be able to buy subsidized insurance without penalizing the remainder of the pool.”

“The ACA prohibited lower cost plans,” according to Arora’s site, which also contends that the ACA “made insurance costs prohibitive for many Americans.”

“The correct solution is to offer a variety of plans.  These plans should have offered different coverage levels at various price points with CLEAR and CONCISE DISCLOSURES.​”



Sue Haynie August 20, 2018 at 5:31 am

Himes, Duff and Murphy, 3 guys with taxpayer subsidized insurance telling the rest of us how great Obamacare is. Duff gets insurance through the State which supposedly offers some of the most generous benefits in the country. Murphy represents Connecticut but gets his gold-plated taxpayer subsidized plan from the Washington DC ACA exchange with its plethora of plans and options.

All 3 of these guys should put their family’s health where their mouths are and purchase their health insurance on the Connecticut ACA with its measelly choice of 2 carriers, limited networks, limited plans and yearly price increases for the last 5 years+ 25%…they’d be singing a new tune real fast!

John Levin August 20, 2018 at 7:18 am

Sue – I don’t think that anyone claims that all aspects of Obamacare are perfect. But at least it was an attempt, a reasonable attempt, to expand health care insurance coverage to the 45 million americans who did not have it, and to improve equity. Expanding insurance coverage to include individuals with ‘pre-existing condition’ has allowed survivors of cancer and other diseases finally to gain access to health insurance. Allowing children up to the age of 26 to remain on the parents’ policies, all of these things have added costs, but by themselves are not the only source of rising health care, and health care insurance cost. Gentle reminder: during the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump promised that if elected he would ‘get rid of Obamacare’ AND ‘replace it’ with something ‘better and cheaper’. Of course that was a big lie, and there has been no attempt to fulfill that promise. I’m pretty certain that Jim Himes and Chris Murphy would be delighted to vote on any president’s proposal that is “better and cheaper than Obamacare”.

Sue Haynie August 20, 2018 at 8:47 am

@John Levine. Before Obamacare, My family Used to have affirdable and good health insurance. We Used to have insurance that was as good as that Misters Hines, Duff and Murphy still enjoy. We Used to have insurance as good as the public employees in Norwalk and the State of Connecticut. We Used to have coverage that mirrored the coverage of large corporations. Public employee unions, large corporations, Congress, Connecticut lawmakers exempted themselves from the realities of Obamacare, they didn’t face the loss of coverage, the sticker shock that the small businesses, entrepreneurs, self employed faced.
They are hypocrites and live in a self-protected health care bubble and act like they are the ones who are carrying the weight of the changes, They are not. Obamacare would be dead if all those groups hadn’t insulated themselves.

Rick August 20, 2018 at 9:58 am

Thoughts from Republicans seems to be more constructive than the 3 who are destructive on most cases by complaining with no resolve.

I guess talking why it takes so long in some cases to get an ambulance to your door in Norwalk is not an issue ,since they had only an hour to campaign , but what about those poor souls they pick up off the street and those ten beds Duff help eliminate from Norwalk Hospital for the homeless?

Its ok to hear the three are working on progress but what about the health care facts and problems that wasn’t on the agenda? They coming back to work with us or was this just a curtain call for the next election.

I find the timing is appropriate but what about the other stuff that can be worked on, its not like the city is just bent on one thing.

Lisa Brinton Thomson August 20, 2018 at 10:30 am

One way to fix healthcare costs is to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines, creating economies of scale. No one disputes that health care is an important topic, its just that our local politicians seem to prefer to discuss every other social ill (ex. gun safety, net neutrality, immigration, opiate addiction, etc.) instead of the elephant in the room – the financial state of Connecticut – both in terms of the budget, jobs, housing market, overall economy and impact on municipalities like Norwalk. At least, both gubernatorial candidates have made it their centerpiece topic this campaign. Will the state reps?

John S August 20, 2018 at 11:37 am

Sue is 100% correct.

Unfortunately, all the Republicans do is take shots at the Democrats for the plan instead of actually using the 8 years Obama was in office to find a solution.

Fact is, they don’t care to find a solution. ACA just made every American a customer to insurance companies that now gouge families with high premium, high deductible plans that provide almost no real cover.

Force all these Politicians onto the ACA plans and see how fast they change.

Wineshine August 20, 2018 at 1:04 pm

John S., that’s a convenient half truth about “every American family”. The ACA program was a fiscal failure in almost every way. My premiums went up 28% the first year, and were due to go up another 45% in the second year. What the program was designed to do was to make insurance Affordable to the uninsured. What the former president failed to emphasize was the collateral damage to the currently insured. That the program failed is indisputable. Case in point, the limited choices we have now. If it was so great, insurance companies would be clamoring for business instead of fleeing states. You want to know what the truly scary part is? The CBO “scored” the ACA highly. Let that sink in.

U.S. Blues August 20, 2018 at 6:15 pm

Considering every democrat voted for obama-uncare without reading any of the 1300+ page documentation is just a travesty of our political system and plain disgusting.
I agree, the demo{…} knew the taxpayers would have to choose between a roof over their heads, food on the table or get heavily penalized by flubama. Those penalties plus the exorborant increases in premiums will pay for the illegals and the indigent.
Cut ALL politicians medical and have them go through their own states aca. Haha! Duff, it will never happen. You people are {…}.

Edited to remove a vulgarity and an insult, both in violation of the comment policy. Please see https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Rick August 20, 2018 at 7:24 pm

were Republicans even invited this round table?

gridlock? “Republicans spend a lot of time lecturing the country about running government like a business…

Malloy reduced the Executive Branch by about 5,000 employees, or 9.5 percent, including a 28 percent reduction in management positions, and shrank the number of state agencies from 81 to 58.

This did nothing to health care?

Democrats in Connecticut doubled down on Governor Dan Malloy’s failed policies that have been disastrous for the state’s economy and for those who call Connecticut home,” Republican National Committee Spokesperson Ellie Hockenbury said last week. “In Ned Lamont, Democrats have thrown their support behind a candidate who proudly speaks of raising their taxes and supporting single-payer health care — regardless of the $32 trillion price tag.

This all came from Christine Stewart today


a lot to think about.

Pros & Cons August 20, 2018 at 8:07 pm

@John Levin. I think one of the key points Sue Haynie is making – and I agree with her – is that CT state and federal legislators generally have much better, taxpayer subsidized health insurance than even decent Affordable Care plans. To add insult to injury, state legislators have not fulfilled their financial obligations to retired teachers health insurance fund but have funded their own plan which is significantly better and cheaper.

Tysen Canevari August 20, 2018 at 11:39 pm

Being self employed my health insurance is $1650 a month for a $6000 deductible. When Obamacare started the only two carriers in CT told me to take it or leave it! Maybe the dems should enroll in this plan as well. It is designed for the rich or poor. Translation- Middle class gets screwed again. Oh btw $1650 a month includes no dental coverage!!!!

Rick August 25, 2018 at 10:56 pm

shame the conversation never made it to those several poor souls they picked off the street since Friday from the Norwalk streets.

I know this is about health care but was about the compassion and concern about the on going crisis? Not all are homeless and not all have overdosed this weekend so far.

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