U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, on Thursday voted in support of the American Health Care Act legislation to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care plan, which passed the House by a narrow 4-vote margin.
“We need better health care. We need to work on solutions so that our health care is more patient centered. ... So this is a step in the right direction,” Stefanik said in a telephone interview after the vote.
Dr. John Rugge, executive chairman of Hudson Headwaters Health Network, said it’s an uncertain time for health care.
“It’s the middle of the process, so we don’t know what the ending will be,” Rugge said of the legislation, which now goes to the Senate for consideration and likely changes before a final vote. “It’s sobering for a rural area like ours. There are so many people that don’t have big employers that have generous benefits.”
Rugge said the potential impact will be more clear once the Congressional Budget Office releases an analysis.
“We can’t know all the impact because we don’t have any outside analysis yet,” Rugge said. “This was passed before there was any Congressional Budget Office analysis of the most recent redactions (changes).”
Stefanik said that the CBO analyzed the previous version that was the basis of Thursday’s legislation, and that the text of the legislation was posted at readthebill.gop for public review.
Stefanik said the process was more transparent than the process of passing President Obama’s health care plan in 2009.
“’Obamacare,’ you remember the quote, ‘We have to pass the bill before we can see what’s in it,’” she said. “That is not what happened. This bill has been public.”
The legislation passed the House by a vote of 217-213, with 20 Republicans voting against it and no Democrats voting for it.
Among New York House Republicans, seven members voted “Yes” and two members voted “No.”
Reps. John Katko, R-Camillus, and Daniel Donovan, R-Staten Island, were the two that voted “No.”
Democratic congressional candidate Patrick Nelson criticized Stefanik’s vote.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Nelson, who attended a noon rally on Thursday outside Stefanik’s district office in Glens Falls.
Nelson said Stefanik can no longer claim to be a moderate.
“She should never be taken seriously again when she says she is ‘independent and bipartisan,’” said Nelson, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Stefanik in November 2018.
About 40 people attended the rally that MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Citizen Action and Saratoga Progressive Action organized.
Many of those who attended suggested Stefanik’s vote in support of the health care law will energize voters to oust Stefanik from office in 2018.
“She’s committing political suicide,” said Ellen Egger-Aimone, organizer of Saratoga Progressive Action.
Stefanik said she was elected twice in the district on a pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“I ran on this issue. I kept my promise,” she said.
Political strategists said it is too soon to predict the political implications of Stefanik’s vote.
“That’s wishful thinking on their part,” said David Catalfamo, a Republican strategist in Albany, referring to Democrats’ claims the vote will make Stefanik vulnerable in 2018. “At the end of the day, she’s going to be judged based on what the final disposition of our health care system looks like.”
“It depends on how many people in the district get hurt by the changes in their health care. It’s too early to tell,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist in New York City.
Stefanik said she was instrumental in adding funding to the legislation for maternity care and language to essentially prohibit New York state from requiring counties to cover a portion of Medicaid costs.
“So even though I’m beginning my second term, I was able to get important provisions that improved the final legislative package,” she said.
Stefanik said she co-sponsored legislation to automatically repeal, once the new health care bill becomes law, a provision that exempts members of Congress and aides from changes that states might make to details of the plan.
Stefanik said she will continue advocating to increase protection for those with pre-existing conditions as the legislation moves to the Senate.
“This is the first part of a long legislative process,” she said. “There are going to be lots of opportunities for constituents to weigh in. There will be opportunities to improve the bill throughout the process.”
Many constituents attempted to contact Stefanik’s offices in the hours before the vote on Thursday to weigh in, one way or the other.
Peter Rief of Lake George said he and his wife were frustrated they could not reach Stefanik’s office in repeated attempts on Thursday morning.
“Our congresswoman’s voice mail was overloaded and shut down, at least when we repeatedly tried to get through,” he said.
“We are experiencing a higher than normal call volume, with many callers from outside of the district,” said Tom Flanagin, a Stefanik spokesman. “We’ve received opinions from all sides of the debate and are grateful for the feedback.”