Make us your home page
Instagram

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 kmcgrory@tampabay.com 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.

KATHLEEN MCGRORY | Times

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

Loading...
  1. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 24: A pilgrim reaches the Cruz de Ferro, an important milestone on the journey to Santiago

    Travel

    Day 24: Foncebadon to Molinaseca: 20.3 km, 6 hours. Total for Days 1-24 = 561 km (349 miles)

  2. Sprint is reportedly seeking a merger with Charter, the nation's second-biggest cable company

    Business

    Sprint, the nation's fourth-largest wireless network, is pursuing a merger with the cable company Charter Communications, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

  3. Steve Cishek latest bullpen upgrade for Rays, who now must translate that to wins

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — The Rays made another addition to change the look of their bullpen Friday in acquiring veteran side-armer and former closer Steve Cishek from Seattle.

    Reliever Steve Cishek has a 3.15 ERA in 20 games after recovering from offseason hip surgery and a 1.86 ERA since a rocky second outing of the season.
  4. Ex-priest in Boston sex abuse scandal released from prison

    Nation

    BOSTON — A convicted pedophile priest at the center of Boston's Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal settled into an apartment in western Massachusetts on Friday, across the street from a children's dance studio.

    Paul Shanley, 86, has completed a 12-year sentence for the rape of a boy in the 1980s.
  5. Russia seizes 2 U.S. properties and orders embassy to cut staff

    World

    MOSCOW — Russia took its first steps Friday to retaliate against proposed U.S. sanctions for Moscow's suspected meddling in the 2016 election, seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties and ordering the U.S. Embassy to reduce staff by September.