WILLINGBORO, N.J. (AP) — A Republican who played a key role in helping the GOP-led U.S. House pass an Affordable Care Act replacement bill faced angry voters inside and outside a town hall on Wednesday.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside Rep. Tom MacArthur’s event in heavily Democratic Willingboro, some lying on the ground with tombstones during a die-in. He faced criticism from residents inside the event, which came as Democrats target him ahead of 2018 midterm elections.
One member of the audience called out “shame” when MacArthur began discussing his daughter Gracie, who was born with special needs and died at age 11 in 1996. MacArthur responded “shame on you.”
MacArthur said he came to the Democratic part of the district because he wants to represent both sides and he’s aware of the “anxiety” in the country at the moment over health care.
MacArthur was one of only two Republicans among five from the state to back the House legislation, which would dismantle Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature law, sometimes called Obamacare. The Republican-led Senate is expected to author its own version.
The former health insurance executive played a leading role in helping the measure gain enough support from conservative colleagues by authoring an amendment that would allow states to get federal waivers to the requirement that insurers charge healthy and sick customers the same premiums. The change would be only for people who let their coverage lapse.
“I’m acting as an individual trying to solve a problem,” MacArthur said last month about his work on the measure. “That’s what I came here to do.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under initial versions of the House bill about 24 million fewer people would have health insurance by 2026. The bill that was narrowly passed by the House, 217-213, earlier this month hadn’t received a CBO score.
Among other changes in the bill are the elimination of tax penalties under Obama’s law. The bill also erases tax increases in the Affordable Care Act on higher-earning people and the health industry. It cuts the Medicaid program for low-income people and lets states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients.
New Jersey was one of several dozen states that opted to expand Medicaid under the ACA. Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration estimates that about 500,000 residents have gained coverage under the Medicaid expansion, which the governor has touted as part of his efforts to fight the state’s opioid addiction epidemic.
New Jersey also has about 288,000 people in the ACA’s individual marketplace, according to federal data.
MacArthur has been under pressure from his political opponents in the southern New Jersey district not to strip away the ACA’s benefits. Liberal-leaning groups, like New Jersey Citizen Action, have been organizing weekly anti-repeal protests at his district office.
Vicky VanWright, a 69-year-old retired second-grade teacher from Willingboro, is a registered Democrat and said she had never attended a town hall event. She said the debate over health care and concern over the repeal of the Affordable Care Act motivated her to come out on Wednesday.
“As far as health care, it should be for everyone,” she said. “I think it should be universal coverage.”
The town went heavily for Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, by about 14,000 to 1,300 votes. MacArthur fared slightly better in the town.
A potential Democratic challenger, Andrew Kim, who served as an Obama White House national security adviser, has said he’s now more likely to challenge MacArthur next year. Kim said he raised more than $43,000 online over the last week for a possible run.
“We have an opportunity to take down the person who was the author of Trumpcare 2.0,” Kim said. “He owns every part of this.”
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Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.