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Cacophony With Your Congressman

Josh James
Constituent Jill Shearer asks a question about the GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act during Congressman Andy Barr's (R-Lexington) Monday town hall in Lexington.

6th District Congressman Andy Barr worked to tame a hostile crowd at his first Lexington town hall since the November election with little success Monday.

The “Coffee with Your Congressman” gathering was anything but a laid back affair, as Barr managed only a few brief introductory remarks before the atmosphere rapidly soured.

"I believe we can do better than what we have now. Why? Because the ACA [Affordable Care Act] is in a death spiral," the representative said, sparking the first round of overpower boos from the audience.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
Congressman Andy Barr (R-Lexington) plows through a health presentation over jeers, and occasional cheers, at a Lafayette High School town hall.

From that point on, Barr struggled to speak above the din of the packed house at Lafayette High School, which waved green and red sheets of paper with “agree” and “disagree” in response to his statements. While some supporters approached the microphone to thank the representative for working to lower taxes and fight abortion, the majority had healthcare on their minds.

Physician Alice Thornton with Bluegrass Care Clinic said over the last four years she's seen the percentage of uninsured patients at her facility drop from 40 percent to 5 percent. "Whether you like Obamacare or the ACA, whatever you want to call it, let's not throw out the baby with the bath water," she urged.

Many asked for assurances that the Republican plan would not roll back benefits afforded under the signature Obama-era legislation, including birth control provisions, along with psychiatric and drug counseling. To which, Barr promised any new reforms would guarantee more choice and access while retaining protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

"This bill is not going back to the status quo before the ACA," Barr said. "This bill fixes problems in ways that don't create other problems."

The congressman also traded accusations over the partisan nature of health reform under President Obama and the new administration, noting the lack of Republican votes for 2010 law. Speakers tossed the accusation back at the Republicans' stymied American Health Care Act, which Democrats have united against. The AHCA failed to reach the U.S. House floor in March and is now being retooled.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
Audience member raise red "disagree" cards during Congressman Andy Barr's Lexington town hall.

"If you're consumed with repealing the ACA, how are you ever going to get it to work with both parties?" Jill Shearer asked.

The theme of cooperation, or lack thereof, surfaced repeatedly as Barr and various speakers periodically admonished the crowd to quiet down so others could be allowed to speak and hear the answers to their questions. Even Barr’s erstwhile Democratic opponent, Nancy Jo Kemper, stepped up to request more civility from the audience, but not without firing off her own query at the congressman.

"After the election you said that you would be getting touch with me to talk about how we might address some of these intractable problems. I've yet to hear from you," she said. Barr responded that he was unaware she had contacted him and said the invitation still stands. 

The third term congressman was also asked whether he supported President Donald Trump’s border wall, which U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates suggest could cost the country $21.6 million, according to a Reuters report. Barr told the audience member the wall is "part but not the complete" solution to the country’s broken immigration system.

The scheduled 90-minute event ran as long as advertised, though Barr exited with more than 25 questioners waiting in line.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.