VOICES | Call and Response: Letters to Congress

quotation-marksDear Mr. Gibbs,

I was among those who attended the meeting you held at the Loudonville Library on Saturday, February 4, 2017. Thank you very much for agreeing to attend that gathering and for your willingness to entertain our questions. It is clear that we have different views. It is also clear that we are all sometimes guilty of avoiding those with whom we disagree, a practice which leads to profound misunderstandings and increased polarization. Your willingness to engage with us constitutes an important step in bridging those divisions.

As you stated at the beginning of the Loudonville meeting, we all agree that we want what is best for our country. I gather from listening to your remarks that you have an expansive definition of what “our country” means. That is, you seem committed to addressing the interests and concerns of all U.S. citizens regardless of gender, creed, or any other differences. Our disagreement, I suspect, lies in the role we think government should play in meeting our collective needs. I was heartened by your vision of government setting the parameters within which the free market operates. Nonetheless, I suspect that we have different ideas about where those parameters should be set. For example, as I understand its history, Medicare was developed by Republicans and Democrats in the early 1960s to ensure that retirees could be assured of quality health insurance at affordable prices. After all, those of us in our 60s are hardly attractive to insurance companies who see us as drains on their assets. Medicare helped solve that problem and I shudder to think how many seniors would have seen their retirements blighted by medical expenses without it. Replacing Medicare with private insurance may increase the range of choices but at what financial and social costs?

Insurance companies want to make money. That is not a criticism, nor is it something to be celebrated, it’s just what they do. Left to their own devices they will go back to denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and dumping most of us who are older than 50 in high-risk pools where we will have the choice of whether to buy expensive insurance or pay rent and buy food. The ACA [Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare] was an imperfect policy that successfully addressed some of these very real concerns just as Medicare saw to the health care needs of our seniors. Fixing both Medicare and reforming the ACA so they can meet the needs of our citizens are important goals but privatization has no place in these plans unless those companies are regulated so that they are constrained to act in ways that benefit the common good. We cannot go back to the 1960s or even the early 2000s when so many of our fellow citizens were denied affordable health care; that would be irresponsible.

I know you take the problems faced by all those who need quality health care seriously. I urge you to think very carefully about the rush to privatize any government services, such as Medicare and the ACA, that have been essential supports to all of our citizens. The private sector is good at what it does but that does not include serving the common good. In the end, corporations can only be expected to be interested in their own bottom lines. Putting them in charge of Medicare would be like turning over the running of the temple to the moneylenders. The temple stands for that which benefits all Americans, which operates on a different logic than profit-making. Moneylending isn’t bad, but its logic of maximizing profit while reducing risks and costs is not at all appropriate for running public institutions.

I also am aware that you would like to reduce the size of government bureaucracy and to limit the ability of that bureaucracy to micro-manage our daily lives. I fully sympathize with that goal. Nonetheless, I am not impressed by politicians who argue for a reduction in government at the same time that they actively promote the ability of bureaucrats to make decisions about women’s health. Republican-led efforts to limit the sorts of family planning advice doctors can give and to de-fund Planned Parenthood, for example, smack of government over-reach. Planned Parenthood in particular addresses the health needs of a great many men and women and has done so for quite some time. Attacks on this very valuable agency can only hurt the many who rely on its doctors and nurses. I very much hope that you do not support this war on Planned Parenthood and women’s health; you do not seem like the sort of well-grounded, compassionate person who would pursue such a course. I urge you, nonetheless, to stay true to your commitment to choice and freedom when it comes to ensuring that all our citizens have the very best health advice and care possible.

I know that we had relatively little time to talk about the environment. Even in the few minutes allotted to that topic, however, I was startled to hear you brush off concerns about the climate with phrases such as, “the environment is always changing” and, in answer to one question, “Why are you interested in what will happen 100 years from now?” As regards to the first point, yes, the environment is always changing but, as long as humans have been on the planet, it has not changed this fast nor have those changes put so many people at risk. With respect to the second issue, isn’t it the job of government to plan long-term? You briefly raised important short-term concerns about the deficit and terrorism. The latter is certainly exacerbated by climate change (drought in Syria has only fanned the flames of that civil war) while the former is inseparable from the ever-more-violent weather we face. Outlays to defend coasts and help people recover from cataclysmic storms, for example, will weigh ever-more-heavily on the federal budget. When I noted that the armed services have been moving forward for 13 years with ways to address climate change I was trying to make the point that: there are things we can and must do now to address the threat; the military’s practical approach to the problem might be a model for accomplishing these essential goals. The military doesn’t seem to think that climate change is a political issue. In addition, they appear to have no problem relying on the best science available as a basis for action. Admirals and generals see climate change as a real threat that we can deal with if we act intelligently and systematically. Congress should certainly follow the military’s lead. Please, help your colleagues to see past climate change as a political opportunity to score useless points and to appreciate that Democrats and Republicans are, and will, suffer from this very real problem. We should debate how to deal with climate change, not whether it is ongoing.

Thank you again for taking the time to discuss these important issues with your constituents. Whatever our differences, we are all in this together. Winning an election counts as nothing compared to solving problems that will affect generations to come. You said that what makes America great is entrepreneurship. I would concur but add that entrepreneurship solely in pursuit of individual gain very easily becomes selfishness. What distinguishes our great country is how we take advantage of the opportunities we have to exercise our freedom to benefit others as well as ourselves. Our society is woven together through our mutual dependencies; we rise and fall as one. Please help us to rise together.


Edward Schortman


February 10, 2017

Dear Dr. Schortman,

Thank you for contacting my office regarding Obamacare repeal. As your Representative in Congress, I appreciate your input on this issue.

In the 2016 Presidential election, the American people voted for a better future for health care, not a continuation of the same failed policies that have handcuffed businesses, forced Americans to change doctors, and required individuals to sign up for second-rate coverage. Repealing Obamacare is an essential first step in achieving patient-centered, market-driven reform. Individuals and families, not the government, know what health care choices meet their needs.

As you may know, approximately 8 million Americans paid the individual mandate penalty instead of choosing to purchase expensive health insurance in 2015. As premiums continue rising for individuals and families across the country, Congress cannot wait to make meaningful changes to health care policy. Obamacare was crafted with no regard to the consequences its provisions would have on the insurance market, but was ultimately passed through Congress and signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. It has left America’s health care system less workable, and, for millions, less affordable. The law negatively affected the healthcare marketplace, imposed harmful taxes on businesses, and drastically limited consumer choice.

Almost five million Americans lost their health insurance due to mandated policy coverages resulting from Obamacare. Prior to this law, individuals who did not have access to employer-sponsored healthcare coverage had the ability to purchase healthcare insurance offered by associations, such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Unfortunately, Obamacare eliminated consumers’ ability to purchase coverage through associations and restricted access to healthcare, creating less choice than ever. In addition, one-out-of-every-three counties across the United States has only one health insurance option. Even worse, Alabama, Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming have a total of one health insurer statewide, resulting in less competition and massive premium increases.

I understand the implications of reforming our health care system—American lives, families, and businesses hang in the balance—but Obamacare has failed to deliver. We must reform our broken system so Americans have access to the quality, affordable health care they want and deserve. You may be interested to know, both chambers of Congress are working towards budget reconciliation, a process by which Congress can repeal large and harmful provisions of Obamacare that affect revenues and mandatory spending. On January 3, 2017, the House passed S. Con. Res. 3, a budget resolution for FY 2017 – FY 2026. This resolution was passed to the Senate and subsequently passed with a vote of 51 – 48 on January 12, 2017. This important resolution is the first step to repealing Obamacare and allows congressional committees to begin crafting a budget reconciliation to repeal specific parts of Obamacare.

In Obamacare’s place, Congress must find common ground for competition-driven reforms backed by a majority of Americans that will actually lower healthcare costs and make it more affordable for those who choose to purchase insurance coverage. These reforms should include the purchase of insurance across state lines, protecting and expanding health savings accounts, medical malpractice reform, and increasing affordable access to healthcare.

The 115th Congress should make the transparent repeal of Obamacare a priority, while also being mindful of the effects that this change can have on Americans’ health care coverage. I share the desire of many Americans to ensure that those with pre-existing conditions have access to quality health care coverage. Republicans have consistently maintained that a pre-existing condition should not bar someone from receiving coverage, and that policy is reflected in numerous Republican-led health care bills.

I support a simultaneous repeal and replace plan allowing for a transition period to ensure no American loses coverage, and the healthcare marketplace can adjust with minimal disruption. I will remain committed to a new, patient-centered healthcare system which prioritizes affordability, quality, and choice. Rest assured, as Congress continues to discuss Obamacare repeal and replace, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind.

Again, thank you for contacting my office. Please continue to keep me informed on the issues that are important to you. For more information on my work in Congress, or to sign up to receive my e-newsletter, please visit my website at: http://gibbs.house.gov.

Bob Gibbs
Member of Congress

One response to “VOICES | Call and Response: Letters to Congress

  1. Pingback: VOICES | Call and Response: Letters to Congress, Part 2 | Knox County Citizen Action Network·

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