Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A Bilirakis gathering turns out to be strongly pro-Obamacare

PALM HARBOR — Rep. Gus Bilirakis issued the call to residents of his conservative district on Facebook: Come share your thoughts on the future of health care.

More than 200 people took the Republican congressman up on it, packing a Palm Harbor community center on Saturday morning so tightly that late-comers had to park down the street.

The twist: Despite the demographics of the district, which includes all of Pasco and parts of Pinellas and Hills- borough counties, nearly all the guests came to support the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era health law now on the chopping block.

There was John Ford, 66, who was once denied coverage for his hip because he had previously had the joint replaced. And Christine Mendonca, 34, who worried that without Obamacare, she could no longer afford to get pregnant.

Evan Thornton, 21, fought back tears describing the congenital heart condition that could cut his life short. The Affordable Care Act allowed him to have coverage under his parents' plan into his 20s, he said.

"I'm an independent who voted for you," he told Bilirakis. "Please don't take my life away. Please don't let me die."

Only a handful supported efforts by congressional Republicans to repeal and replace the health law — and one was a Bilirakis employee, case work director Kristen Sellas.

"We have deductibles that I never had before," Sellas said. After Congress began requiring members and their employees to buy Affordable Care Act plans, co-pays for surgeries that were once $350 jumped to $3,000, she said.

Bilirakis, a six-term representative who was recently named to a key health subcommittee, listened more than he spoke.

"I wouldn't be a good representative if I didn't hear you out," he said.

But on some points, he said, he had already made up his mind. He supported last month's budget resolution to begin repealing parts of Obamacare, and wants to see a replacement bill that will give people more choices.

Bilirakis was re-elected in November with 69 percent of the vote. His district has about 204,000 registered Republicans and 160,000 registered Democrats, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Some of his constituents showed up Saturday emboldened by recent demonstrations at airports and on the National Mall. One waved a rainbow flag. Another held a cardboard cutout of the Statue of Liberty.

The crowd got rowdy, booing a 77-year-old speaker who said former President Barack Obama played politics to ram the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010.

"Facts, not Fox!" one woman yelled.

Bilirakis took fire from the crowd, too, particularly when he criticized Obamacare.

"I've been hearing from my constituents for several years and they're not happy," he said.

"We are your constituents!" someone shot back.

But he also received praise.

"This has been a rough room and you've been a man of courage, a man of character, who has stood here through this," said Michael Fox, a progressive activist from St. Petersburg.

The forum ran 20 minutes longer than the two hours that had been scheduled. When it ended, Bilirakis told reporters it had been "a great listening session" and promised to take his constituents' comments to Washington.

But when asked if his thoughts had changed on the Affordable Care Act, the congressman turned to familiar talking points.

"We need to repeal because we need to do it right and expand health care," he said. "Right now, 73 percent of the counties only have one provider. It's too expensive. The premiums are too high. The deductibles are too high."

He plans to hold another listening session next Saturday in New Port Richey.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

Hundreds turned out in support of the Affordable Care Act at a town hall meeting Saturday with Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis.


Hundreds turned out in support of the Affordable Care Act at a town hall meeting Saturday with Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis.

A Bilirakis gathering turns out to be strongly pro-Obamacare 02/04/17 [Last modified: Sunday, February 5, 2017 8:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Construction starts on USF medical school, the first piece of Tampa's Water Street project


    TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

    A rendering shows what the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute will look like when completed in 2019. Local officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate as construction begins on the facility, the first piece of the Water Street redevelopment area in downtown Tampa. [Rendering courtesy of the USF Health]
  2. Flooded Withlacoochee River nears crest


    The flooded Withlacoochee River neared its projected crest Wednesday, with expectations that the floodwaters will begin to recede by the weekend.

    LUIS SANTANA   |   Times This aerial drone view shows flooding in the Talisman Estates neighborhood along the Withlacoochee River.
  3. Tampa Electric rules, Duke Energy drools, Hillsborough commissioners declare


    TAMPA — The pile on of Duke Energy continued Wednesday in Hillsborough County, where commissioners boasted how quickly most of their constituents had power after Hurricane Irma.

    Duke Energy workers cut tree limbs off a power line on Sept. 11 following Hurricane Irma.
  4. Whatever USF has to say about Temple waits till Thursday


    "The holes were wide open. Anyone could have run through them."

    South Florida Bulls cornerback Mazzi Wilkins (23) intercepts a pass during the second half of the home opener for the South Florida Bulls against the Stony Brook Seawolves at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  5. 'Rick and Morty' Rickmobile is coming to Tampa next week


    We now have details on when and where Rick and Morty's belching Rickmobile will be when the rolling promo for the cult hit Adult Swim show swings through Tampa on Sept. 27.

    Ricky and Morty fans will head to the Lowry Parcade and Tavern in Tampa on Sept. 27 where a pop-up merch store that will operate out of a Rick Sanchez-shaped truck.