A congressman who voted in favor of the American Health Care Act, the party’s best hope for repealing Obamacare, infuriated constituents and audience members at a town hall event Friday night after declaring that “nobody dies” because they don’t have access to health care.
Rep. Raúl Labrador, a four-term Idaho Republican who is considered a potential candidate for the governor’s mansion next year, made the comment roughly 24 hours after the House of Representatives passed the bill with only a single vote to spare, in response to a question from a constituent concerned that the bill would harm recipients of Medicaid.
“You are mandating people on Medicaid to accept dying,” the audience member said at a town hall meeting at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. “You are making a mandate that will kill people.”
Labrador interrupted the woman, calling her allegations “indefensible.”
“No one wants anybody to die," Labrador said. “You know, that line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”
Labrador, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was immediately met with a chorus of boos.
Although the relationship between insurance coverage and overall health is more complicated than one might think—aspects of class, lifestyle, age, genetics, and ZIP code represent major confounding variables—a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that working-age uninsured Americans face a 40 percent higher risk of dying than those with insurance. The study linked roughly 45,000 deaths annually to a lack of access to health care.
Under the terms of the proposed bill, states would be allowed to apply for waivers from coverage of a wide range of essential health benefits—including pre-existing conditions—in order to offer lower-cost plans.
Until the Congressional Budget Office releases an analysis of the AHCA’s potential impact—heretofore considered a customary, if not necessary requirement before voting on major legislation—it’s difficult to say how many people would lose their insurance coverage under the Republican plan. When the first iteration of the bill was scored in March, the CBO found that 24 million would become uninsured within a decade of that bill’s passage.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Labrador admitted that his answer “wasn't very elegant.”
“During ten hours of town halls, one of my answers about health care wasn’t very elegant,” Labrador said. “I was responding to a false notion that the Republican health care plan will cause people to die in the streets, which I completely reject. In a lengthy exchange with a constituent, I explained to her that Obamacare has failed the vast majority of Americans. In the five-second clip that the media is focusing on, I was trying to explain that all hospitals are required by law to treat patients in need of emergency care regardless of their ability to pay and that the Republican plan does not change that.”
Labrador also posted on Facebook that it was a “privilege” to attend the town hall.
“It was my privilege to spend two hours today in Lewiston fielding questions from my constituents, many of them about our efforts to provide quality health care to all Americans at an affordable and sustainable cost.”