JANESVILLE — Vice President Mike Pence spoke to an invitation-only crowd of Blain's Farm and Fleet distribution center employees on Friday, March 4th. The speech began shortly after noon and his message was clear: replacing the Affordable Care Act is the administration's top priority.
Before Vice President Pence took the stage, the crowd heard briefly from Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson. The director of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, also spoke about the need for change.
Vice President Pence then told the crowd the plan Republicans are drafting will lower insurance costs. He also pledged in doing so, people with pre-existing conditions will still be able to find coverage.
"I promise you that Americans struggling with pre-existing conditions have access to the coverage and the care that they need and we'll give states the flexibility, and the freedom, and the resources they need to take care of our most vulnerable," Vice President Pence said.
About 50 protesters greeted Pence and Ryan outside the distribution center as the motorcade drove by.
Ryan is working with House Republicans and the Trump administration on a repeal and replacement plan for the health care law. Pence says Trump and Ryan have a close partnership that will benefit Americans "for generations to come."
Of course, Democrats in Washington are fighting the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Those on the left maintain that "access" for those with pre-existing conditions will simply mean regressing back to high-risk pools with higher costs and deductibles.
The real intrigue, though, may well be that some Republicans on Capitol Hill, such as Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, have criticized the GOP leadership's plan. Reports from Washington indicate that drafts of the Republican replacement will offer tax credits that range between $2,000-$4,000 depending on the buyer's age. The right-wing critics say those credits still represent an unacceptable level of spending. Some have even dubbed the plan "Obamacare Lite."
To many, the decision of Vice President Pence to appear with Secretary Price alongside Speaker Ryan sends a clear message to critics on both the left and right: when it comes to healthcare, the White House and House GOP leaders are on the same page.
Prior to the speeches, the officials held a private listening session with a group of nine Rock County farmers and small business owners. Whilden R. Hughes, a fifth-generation farmer, said he felt Vice President Pence was receptive to the guests' comments.
"He listened," Hughes said, "He really listened and he took notes and I feel like I got heard."
George Steil was also chosen to take part in the meeting. He's part of a Janesville law firm and said he's known Speaker Ryan since Ryan was a child. Steil says he wanted to know more about the Republicans' plans to help business owners insure their employees. He also suggested encouraging more people to become doctors would help promote competition and, in turn, lower costs.
"Supply and demand," Steil said, "If you don’t have enough doctors and other healthcare professionals, costs are gonna go up and that’s one of the things that needs to be addressed."
Steil said the vice president acknowledged that a replacement for the Affordable Care Act would have to overcome challenges from both liberal and conservative critics.
"The vice president did mention that this is not gonna be simple," Steil said, "Everybody’s not on the same page."
DPW weighs in
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning issued the following statement in response to Vice President Pence's remarks in Janesville:
"It is very telling that Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Secretary Price spent more time in invite-only meetings than speaking to regular Wisconsinites who are afraid that their health care will be taken away from them.
"If they had spoken to a family no longer under a mountain of debt from medical bills, a part-time teacher who can finally afford preventative care, or a recent college graduate who no longer goes to sleep at night praying they don't get sick, they'd know that the Affordable Care Act is helping millions of our friends, families, and neighbors.
"The fact is that the ACA is more popular than ever after helping 150 million Americans with pre-existing conditions gain crucial health care coverage, increasing mental health and substance abuse health coverage substantially, and insuring millions of young adults who can now stay on their parent's health insurance until age 26.
"Republicans still have no plan of their own to insure the millions of Americans who got access to lifesaving health care under the ACA. And the few ideas they have put on the table would lead to worse care that is harder to get and more expensive.
"Instead of trying to rip coverage away from Americans, we should be working to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and finding ways to expand access to affordable health care."