Rep. Tom MacArthur — a Republican from South Jersey — was the only New Jersey House member to say he would support the American Health Care Act. Of course, the vote never happened because of too much opposition. MacArthur sat down with NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill to discuss this further.
Hill: Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
MacArthur: My pleasure, Michael. Hello.
Hill: Why did you support the American Health Care Act? We ask that because we know back in January, you voted against the budget resolution that would have set this whole thing in process.
MacArthur: Well, I did vote no. I was one of only nine at that time, and I voted no because I thought we were moving too fast. I thought it was important to get this right — not just quick. But everyone of us is faced with a challenge when things don’t go our way: do we fold our arms and obstruct or do we try to be constructive? That’s what I was faced with. I decided to try to be constructive, to try to make this still better and I worked over the past weeks with the president, with the vice president, with the speaker, different members of my own party and we made really dramatic improvements to the bill in the last two weeks. In total, adding $165 billion for the most needy. You know, it’s easy to roll your eyes with dollars and forget the point — this is direct help to the American people that most needed it and those things got me to yes.
Hill: Congressman, some were upset about a project loss of health insurance for 24 million people by 2026 — this is according to the Congressional Budget Office. Why do you think this legislation did not come to a vote?
MacArthur: Well Michael, it’s two questions. The first is about people losing insurance. That is of great concern to me. I looked at the Congressional Budget Office score, the CBO score, and they have a difficult challenge. They’re trying to figure out what might happen and what it might do to the system. They concluded, when there was no individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance, that tens of millions wouldn’t buy it. That to me is different than us taking it away from people and I tried and I successfully worked to make sure that every American would have the ability to buy health insurance. I’ll just give you one example. Today under the Affordable Care Act, there are 23 million people who get zero benefit. They pay a penalty or a tax for not being insured or they get a wavier — there’s 12 and a half million people who get a wavier — and then some millions ignore the law all together. Every single one of them, without exception, would be getting federal money under our bill to go out and either put that money into an HSA or buy insurance. Every one of them would be better off. All of the people that currently get subsidies, we worked very hard to make sure that those subsidies were at least getting tax credits or at least getting close. So, I know there has been a lot of confusion about the bill and I know there’s been a lot of fear, but what I’ve been working on is to try to make sure that people, at home and around the country, have the ability to actually get insurance. That’s a promise that I made and I’m working to keep.
Hill: Congressman, we have a minute left. I want to ask you what’s next, but first I am going to ask you — this is a quote from your colleague in the House, Congressman Bill Pascrell who said, “I get along with Congressman MacArthur, but this is a dumb thing he is doing,” your support for this legislation, “he’s making himself more vulnerable.” How do you respond to that?
MacArthur: Well look, I love Bill Pascrell, he’s a good man and I work closely with him. If you look at legislation based on whether it makes you personally more vulnerable, I think that’s a mistake. Now this isn’t about politics, this isn’t about a political calculation, this is about just doing what we said we would do and I wish the health care system wasn’t falling apart, but it is. Millions of people are being hurt, they’re having trouble getting insurance, they’re paying too much and I came here, not to decorate a chair, but to try to be somebody who makes a difference and that’s my focus. If it makes me more vulnerable, then so be it. But I have to do what I believe I can do. I spent a lifetime in business, I have a different perspective about what might be helpful and I know what it’s like to be on the bottom end of very difficult medical issues. I am doing my best to try to help the American people have a health care system that doesn’t let them down.
Hill: Congressman, House Speaker Ryan says they’re still working on this bill. You’re involved in that negotiation to try to fine tune this legislation?
MacArthur: I am. I actually have a meeting in just a little while on that very subject and I will continue to do work. I don’t think it’s dead. We didn’t vote last week. That was a self imposed deadline. Leadership decided that they wanted to do it that day on the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. That date was never that big an issue to me. I think over the coming weeks, hopefully we can get to a place where enough members of Congress believe we’ve gotten the right approach to get it passed. If we don’t, people are going to continue to get hurt. Again, I know there are people who are listening who have been helped by the Affordable Care Act and those are the ones that I think are the most scared. I’m asking them to try to give us a chance and really try to get past all the noise and hear what this bill really does. Because we’re trying to transition them to a place where they get a similar amount of help and they have more flexibility.
Hill: We’ll be watching. Congressman Tom MacArthur, joining us from Washington via Skype. Thank you, Congressman.
MacArthur: OK Michael, thank you.