PHOENIX — Standing firmly in a political divide drawn along party lines, U.S. Senators John McCain and John Barrasso blamed federally subsidized health care for a shift in Arizona’s insurance industry.
Arizona’s McCain and Barrasso, of Wyoming, reiterated Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which they called an overreach in the federal government’s power.
“The fundamental problem is they decided they were going to take money from healthy, young Americans to subsidize the health care of not-so-healthy older Americans,” McCain said. “This is why there has to be a repeal.”
The senators spoke at the Phoenix Better Business Bureau Friday morning in a town hall setting and voiced their opposition to what they call Obamacare. President Barack Obama in 2010 established a program to extend more health care to the uninsured.
The controversial plan draws supports from those who say more people are getting health-care coverage, while some insurance companies say plan constrains them financially.
Barrasso, a medical doctor, said the health-care plan should be repealed and replaced with a new system tailored toward state governments, rather than a sweeping piece of federal legislation which does not allow for variation across state borders.
“This is big government trying to take over our lives,” he said. “And what we want to do is get the power out of Washington and back to the states. And that’s what we’re looking for — the freedom and flexibility of choice that happens when states can make that decision.”
Two Democratic legislators disagreed with Republicans’ approach to health care.
Sen. Steve Farley, who represents the Catalina Foothills suburb north of Tucson, said repealing the Affordable Care Act would be a mistake, even if there is room for improvement with the legislation.
“You’re just going to drop people from health care coverage, where you go back to the bad old days when people who were self-employed, small-business owners couldn’t get health care coverage,” he said. “Give me an alternative. Obamacare isn’t the ultimate best solution, but if you think it’s not going to work, then how about giving us an alternative?”
Farley said public officials in state and federal government need to work together to fix problems when they see them, rather than grouse about it.
“For anybody to go out there … and say, ‘We’re going to repeal it because it’s evil,’ they’re not dealing with reality,” he said. “And they don’t care about the hundreds of thousands of people who will lose their health care coverage here in Arizona alone.”
Sen. Katie Hobbs, who represents north Phoenix and Scottsdale, said as health-care providers continue to pull out of Arizona, more people who could sign up for affordable coverage are squeezed. But that doesn’t mean they are out of options, said Hobbs, who is state Senate minority leader.
Health care provider Aetna announced in August that it would not serve Pinal County in 2017, leaving it without a insurance provider. However, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona decided to cover the county, which includes Apache Junction, Casa Grande and the San Tan Valley.
“The fact is that more people are insured now than have ever been in the country, and that was the whole point — is that people have access to health insurance,” she said. “I think these issues can be resolved and I think that, bottom line, we shouldn’t be jumping to the conclusion: ‘Oh this isn’t working, we should repeal it.'”
Hobbs said the current federal health care system needs some reform but not a major overhaul. Barrasso and McCain need to come up with a specific plan to replace the one they criticize, she said.