Protesters Give John Culberson a Taste of What to Expect at Upcoming Town Hall

Meagan Flynn
Constituents in U.S. Congressman John Culberson's district gave their representative a little taste of the complaints he might expect to field at his upcoming town hall in Houston.

Gathering outside his Houston headquarters Monday afternoon, the constituents held a protest aimed at the GOP-sponsored healthcare bill, criticizing Culberson, a Republican, for dodging the hot-button issue.They called him "Country Club John" and painted a picture of a congressman indifferent to the plight of the poor and disadvantaged, who may face greater barriers to accessing healthcare should the new bill become law. It's an image of Culberson they contend will become true if he refuses to speak out against the proposed American Health Care Act as various other Republicans have already done.

"He's not being very vocal, and we need him to be very clear that he is against furthering this new health care plan," said Karen Jones, a constituent in Culberson's district. "With these potential changes to health care, many people are going to lose their coverage, but those who may still have access to coverage are not going to be able to afford it. I think a lot of people in the U.S. don't fully understand exactly what is being proposed, and I think that Trump and many Republicans are misrepresenting exactly what is going to happe under this proposed change."

What exactly will happen is up in the air — but estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, at least, have been bleak.

Under the American Health Care Act, the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare would be halted and so would two types of Medicare taxes levied on the wealthiest filers, resulting in billions in tax cuts for the rich — a major complaint of the protesters outside Culberson's office Monday. The bill would provide tax credits based on age instead of income, disadvantaging people the older they get. And insurers will be allowed to sell plans covering a smaller share of people's medical costs.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates 14 million more people would be uninsured by next year under the proposed law compared to the current one, and that would rise to approximately 24 million over the next decade. By 2026, Medicaid spending is expected to be reduced by 25 percent, and 17 percent fewer would be covered by Medicaid, largely due to the halt on Medicaid expansion. For those purchasing insurance, premium rates are expected to rise 10 to 15 percent by 2018 and 2019, but expected to be 10 percent lower than they are now by 2026. People who choose not to buy health insurance would no longer face tax penalties.

With insurance plans being allowed to cover fewer medical expenses than under President Obama's Affordable Care Act, healthcare professionals are also concerned that this will lead to unaffordable medications or treatments. Angie Hayes — a pediatric healthcare researcher at the protest and who is running for the Texas state representative in District 134 — said she believes the increase in uninsured people and the inability of others to afford treatment will result in more emergency-room visits.

"Thirteen percent of emergency room visits — and this is a low-ball number — are preventable visits, things that, if they had a primary care physician, they could get it treated there and not end up at the emergency room later," Hayes, a researcher for Baylor College of Medicine's Section of Public Health Pediatrics. "With more people uninsured, those visits are going to increase, and it's going to increase the burden on taxpaying people."

Various Republicans have already spoken out against the health care bill, including U.S. Senator Ted Cruz—who indicated this week that he would not vote for the bill as it stands — and FiveThirtyEight counts at least 16 House Republicans who might vote no.

Culberson, who has inconspicuously been riding the Trump train for some time now, has made no such indication. Asked to clarify his position, a spokesperson for his office said in a statement: "Congressman Culberson is hosting a town hall on Saturday, March 25th. He looks forward to discussing health care, among other topics, with his constituents during that event."

Culberson's town hall is from 3 p.m. to 4:40 p.m. Saturday at Spring Branch Middle School. His people will be checking photo IDs at the door that must list your current address, so that no protesting stragglers from across town crash the party. Not that they could make any noise anyway: Noisemakers, bullhorns, signs and banners are all prohibited.