Town hall forum at SXU addresses health care, environmental concerns

  • Written by Joe Boyle

While the Affordable Care Act is still operating after a vote by legislators to abolish the health care law was scrapped Friday, several public officials warned that future moves by the Trump administration and Congress could create hardship for many people and pose environmental threats.

A town hall forum was held at St. Xavier University addressed these issues and more. The forum, attended by 100 people, was sponsored in part by state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th).

Members of the audience wrote down questions that they handed to Burke, Cunningham and Hurley. The questions ranged from climate change, education funding, taxes, and changing the retirement age to 70

Courtney Hedderman, associate state director of advocacy and outreach at AARP, said the idea to remove the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is short-sighted because having nothing in its place will result in millions of people not having insurance at all. She believes the ACA needs some adjustments but the proposed American Health Care Act is just “not a good bill” in her opinion.

“The ACA gave insurance to people who were not insured,” said Hedderman, an Oak Lawn resident who has a daughter who attends SXU. “Everyone knows that the law is not perfect. What has happened is that many younger and healthy people have not taken the insurance. It just did not happen. That means that more people who are very sick and not healthy are taking the insurance and the premiums are rising.”

But Hedderman said the proposed American Health Care Act would have caused harm to seniors. The bill was pulled from the table by President Donald Trump after he conferred with House Speaker Paul Ryan because there were not enough votes to pass it.

“People ages 50 and over will see their costs rise,” said Hedderman. “The president said they were about four votes off. We heard it was 47. I think health care will be revisited. We are concerned that those people who need it will not be able to afford it. We don’t want to see changes to Medicare. We are going to be fighting for that. The new bill doesn’t even address prescription drug costs and Medicaid coverage. We will be at the table preserving Medicaid.”

Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, spoke about the uncertainty of environmental and health issues under the president. The Sierra Club members want to provide for a healthy environment from the shores of Lake Michigan to the forest preserves.

“I believe this is going to be a difficult time under this administration,” said Darin. “If you are old enough to know what Lake Michigan looked like in the 1970s, you will know what I mean. The Chicago River back then was an overgrown sewer.

“I am worried about the Trump administration,” Darin continued. “Scott Pruitt, who is the head of the EPA, has sued the EPA 14 times on behalf of oil companies. He believes that climate change is a hoax.”

Darin said that after the U.S. was in the height of the recession in 2009, the EPA helped initiate laws that made American vehicles that were more fuel efficient. Darin added that it was through the efforts of the EPA that consumers were provided with vehicles that ran well and were more fuel efficient

“Now we are putting on the brakes on fuel efficiency,” Darin said.

Darin added that the president wants to eliminate the Clean Water Act and add cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Act, which he said has kept the Asian carp out of Lake Michigan. Darin said the decisions have to be at the federal level and not the states. Five states share Lake Michigan and Darin said decisions to keep waters clean should be a concern of all governors.

He added that scientists who defend climate change should be supported. Darin does not agree with Pruitt, who he said believes there is an acceptable amount of lead for our lakes.

Dr. Laurie Joyner, the new president at St. Xavier University, told the crowd that the current budget impasse is making it difficult for students whose families cannot afford tuition and are not receiving the necessary financial assistance they need.

“Half of our students are Monetary Award Program (MAP) recipients,” Joyner said. “Lack of MAP funding will prevent talented but economically-challenged students from attending St. Xavier.”

Joyner believes the best advice she could give is to get involved.

“Be an active, engaged person in our society,” Joyner said. “Part of what we want for our students is to instill responsibility for the common good. “

Daniel Hertz, the senior policy analyst from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said funding for state education has been reduced 40 percent since 2015. In terms of the pension crisis, the reason the problem exists is that legislators have not made the required payments for years, Hertz said.

He said that adjustments in proposed pension payments, brought up recently in the “Grand Bargain” bill that was rejected, may prove to be unconstitutional.

Hertz referred to the 1970 State Constitution in which pension benefits that have been promised to retired employees cannot be changed.

“They believe if you give up a little here, we will give you a little more here,” Hertz said. “We are going to have to find different sources of revenue.”

Hertz added that bankruptcy is not an option for Illinois. The state cannot declare bankruptcy because federal laws overrule state laws, he added.