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Obamacare Supporters Take Over Town Hall

About 200 people gathered to tell Rep. Bilirakis how they feel about him wanting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act
Quincy Walters/WUSF
About 200 people gathered to tell Rep. Bilirakis how they feel about him wanting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act

Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis held a town hall Saturday, to hear ideas about replacing the Affordable Care Act. 

But he was met with opposition as about every one of the 200 people gathered at The Centre of Palm Harbor were in support of Obamacare. Many came to voice their concerns with the law's potential repeal. 

One activist held a cardboard cutout of the Statue of Liberty. A few people held signs that read "Obamacare Saves Lives" and others had handmade signs that advocated for the retention of the ACA. 

Bilirakis started the nearly two-and-a-half hour town hall by stating its premise. 

"I want to listen to all viewpoints," he said. "Even if we disagree, I want to hear from you. I represent you." 

Bilirakis spoke for about 10 minutes -- presenting what he called a "blueprint" for the GOP's alternative to the ACA. 

"Our goals include more choices, lower costs, removing the burden on small businesses and implementing a patient-centered system," he said. 

Bilirakis said that the GOP's answer to "Obamacare" will allow people to buy insurance across state lines. The crowd booed that idea. 

He also said that those with pre-existing conditions will not be denied access to healthcare. The crowd gave what seemed to be a reserved applause. 

Bilirakis then turned the microphone over to the audience. 

Janet Marx of Tampa told the congressman that in 2015, the healthcare company United Healthcare made profit of nearly $6.8 billion. And, she said, she's not OK with that. 

"What is your priority? To secure the profits of the healthcare industry or the health of your constituents?" she asked. 

The crowd applauded and chanted "Answer! Answer!" Bilirakis offered no response. 

About 40 minutes into the town hall -- after testimonies urging the congressman to keep the ACA -- the representative reiterated his stance. 

"I say that it's going to be repealed," he said. The audience booed. "And I know you don't like that." 

But, Bilirakis said that a number of his constituents are unhappy with the health care law. 

"We're your constituents," someone shouted. 

There were only two people who spoke in favor of repealing "Obamacare". One was Ron Greiner, 60, of Holiday. He said he's licensed to sell health insurance, so he thinks he knows the best solution. 

"I think the Republican healthcare reform would work the best," he said. "Refundable tax credits and enhanced tax-free savings accounts."

But Evan Thornton, 21, of St. Petersburg pleaded with Bilirakis to change his mind. Thornton said he has a genetic disorder called Marfan syndrome and was able to get insurance through the ACA.

"To take away the Affordable Care Act is taking away my freedom and justice," he said. "It's taking away my life."

Thornton said he voted for Bilirakis, because he felt the congressman would hear his voice. 

"So please, please hear my voice," he said, fighting back tears. 

Like many who spoke in favor of the ACA, Thornton believes that the healthcare law should be "repaired" where it needs to be improved; not replaced entirely. 

Bilirakis said the event, which went about 30 minutes over the two-hour time allotment, was successful. 

"It was a great listening session," he said. 

When asked if he will listen to what was said and consider what was said when it comes to policy-making, he said "Well, if I agree with them." 

Bilirakis is holding another town hall Saturday. Feb.11  at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey. 

Copyright 2017 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Quincy J. Walters is a junior at USF, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. His interest in journalism spurred from the desire to convey compelling narratives. He has written for USF’s student paper, The Oracle and is currently the videographer for Creative Pinellas. If he’s not listening to NPR, he’s probably listening to Randy Newman.