VALPARAISO | The Affordable Care Act was on the minds of many of the residents who attended a town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky at Valparaiso City Hall Saturday morning.
Visclosky, D-Ind., read questions submitted by residents from an audience of about 60 people.
Several residents accused President Barack Obama of lying about the law and said it only benefits the 30 million Americans who don't have health insurance, while negatively impacting the 270 million who do.
Visclosky said that statement implies that everything was wonderful with health insurance prior to 2010 when the law was enacted.
Before the law, insurance companies canceled coverage for children who had cancer and for people with pre-existing conditions, he said. Women who were pregnant were turned down for coverage because pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition, Visclosky said.
“Every American ought to have access to affordable health care,” he said. “You now can't be discriminated against if you have a pre-existing condition.”
While the law is not perfect and improvements are needed, it hasn't spelled the end of the world as its opponents predicted, he said. The stock market had its best year since 1995, the GDP has grown, and the number of unemployed is at its lowest since 2008.
Visclosky also said he never maintained that insurance premiums would go down. Rather, the larger pool of healthier people being insured would improve costs.
Indiana has chosen not to participate in Medicaid expansion and instead wants to expand the Healthy Indiana Plan, but that still won't cover everyone, he said. He encouraged residents to speak with representatives from the HealthLinc community health center who were at the meeting, and to contact their state legislators.
He also fielded questions on topics including defense, manufacturing jobs, social security, student debt, immigration and veterans benefits.
Responding to a resident who suggested shrinking the size of government, Visclosky said it is needed for infrastructure, health and safety, national security and defense, but it should be done efficiently.
“We should be skeptical of government, but we shouldn't be cynical,” he said. “The government does some things right. Where would our seniors be today without Medicare and social security?”
Regarding student debt, Visclosky said it's the responsibility of universities and taxpayers to keep the costs down. For taxpayers, it's an investment in the future that will pay off as students graduate, get jobs and become tax-paying citizens themselves.
“We're supposed to help the next generation. That's what my parents taught me,” he said.
He drove home the theme of helping the next generation by touting the need to invest in infrastructure such as the extension of the South Shore railroad line to Lowell and Valparaiso. Access to Chicago jobs, which pay 30 percent more than local ones, will help young people stay in the region after they graduate college or serve in the military, he said.
He also cited a regional bus system, the Gary airport and the Marquette Plan to redevelop the Lake Michigan shoreline and make the region more attractive.
Investment in infrastructure is especially crucial, and the Indiana Harbor ship canal is now is dredged to depth for the first time since 1970. Only one-third of the nation's ports and harbors are dredged to the proper depth, and it will take about $28 billion to complete these projects, Visclosky said.
The flight of young people from the region has resulted in a Lake County population that is declining and older, with a lower median income.
While the situation is better in Porter and LaPorte counties, the region as a whole is getting older, Visclosky said.
“We need to make those investments to keep and attract young people,” he said.