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Katko says GOP healthcare plan will be difficult to get right

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo
Rep. John Katko at Upstate Medical University.

The Republican healthcare plan to replace the Affordable Care Act will likely change significantly before it comes to the House for a vote, according to Rep. John Katko. The central New York Republican said he has concerns with the legislation, which he has shared with House leadership.

A day before the plan was released, Katko met with central New York healthcare providers at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse and maintained his position that he would not support a repeal of Obamacare until a replacement is ready to go.

“This process is going too fast," Katko said. "We need to slow down and make sure we get all of the concerns of hospitals like this, which are huge economic drivers, not to mention provides great coverage for people. We got to make sure we get their input.”

Katko said the biggest question hospital officials have is what would happen to the Medicaid expansion in New York under the Affordable Care Act if the healthcare law is repealed.

“Programs like drug treatment, neonatal intensive care, a lot of times the patients in those two things are Medicaid, vast majority," Katko said. "If you go in there, and Medicaid is getting cut for programs like that, those programs are going to suffer.”

In the Republican plan, people eligible for the Medicaid expansion can continue to enroll until 2020. The new plan includes tax credits based on age rather than income and keeps some provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

“I applaud our party for trying to do something, but I think we’re going at it at such warp speed that its going to be difficult for us to get it right I think,” Katko said. "Pre-existing conditions, having a kid on your policy up to age 26, those types of things, I think they're going to stay in whatever final version we have on the Republican side. We have to try and do something because on its own accord, by 2018 or so, there's a very strong possibility [the Affordable Care Act] is going to collapse under its own weight. That's not us saying it, that's the insurance companies telling us that." 

The Republican plan still needs to be reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office and Katko said he is eager to study the long term effects.

Town halls

Katko has doubled down on his decision to not hold an in-person town hall meeting. Hundreds of demonstrators have protested outside his office in Syracuse and a smaller number at his Auburn office. Some elected officials including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner are also calling on him to hold a town hall with his constituents. The central New York Republican said he and his staff have interacted with tens of thousands of people over the past two years.

"I'm sitting down with people from the community every time I'm home, getting their feedback, getting their information," Katko said. "To go to a place and just have people shake their fist and yell at you, that's not helpful."

Katko said he has held 20 telephone town halls and eight open meetings where anyone can ask him a question. Recently, Katko met with a small group of protesters while he was in Syracuse. 

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.