5/9/17 Telephone "Town Hall" Transcription

Rodney Frelinghuysen Telephone Town Hall 5/9/17

Transcribed from https://www.facebook.com/NJ11thForChange/videos/633344920203474/

RF: . . . happening here in Washington DC. If you would like to listen, or to participate in tonight’s call, please stay on the line, and you’ll be automatically connected. If you would prefer not to receive this type of call in the future, please press 2 on your telephone keypad now. Again, this is Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. Welcome to my telephone town hall meeting, now in progress. Thank you. My office can be reached at (973) 984-0711.

Recording: You are joining a live conference already in progress. Please be aware that your local phone company may leave your line open for up to 32 seconds after you leave the conference. If you would like to ask the speaker a question, please press 0.

RF: . . . share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions. If you would like to ask me a question, or make a comment, you can press the 0 key on your telephone at any time. First allow me to make some introductory remarks while people get on the line with their questions. The good news is that the federal government is open for business today. Late last week, congress completed the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations cycle, approving the final eleven government funding bills and preventing a government shutdown. As chairman of the house appropriations committee, I brought a bipartisan compromise package before the full house that increased our national security and defense and border protection, boosted funding for such agencies as the National Institutes of Health, the FBI, DEA, and provided monies to battle the opioid epidemic, among many other critical programs. And the bill passed. Last Thursday’s package also contained some good news specifically for New Jersey. We were able to include extra funding, 75 million dollars for the Amtrak gateway project commuter tunnel into New York City and for rail safety projects, including the installation of positive train safety control systems. It is the top priority of New Jersey Transit. And in the wake of a recent wave of anti-Semitic threats against synagogues and Jewish Schools in New Jersey and around the nation, our appropriations bills increase funding for the non-profit security grant program, which supports physical security enhancements to non-profit and faith-based organizations. The house and the senate also approved ten million dollars for land conservation partnership projects and open space purchases from willing sellers in the Highlands region of Northern New Jersey and three other states. This is a vital protection for a critical region which provides drinking water for millions. Congress’s primary responsibility is to provide for a strong national defense and fund agencies and programs of the federal government, and the passage of this bill represents real progress. We’re putting an end to an era of stop-gap funding bills, and that is a big win for our troops serving at home and abroad, job creators, and the American people. 

Of course, there are other topics in the headlines these days. I know that some people want to discuss the American Health Care Act, passed by the house last week. Let me make a few extended comments, because I know feelings are strong. I’ve heard from a lot of people. For over six years, I’ve been hearing personal pleas of constituents that Obamacare is failing to make healthcare affordable for New Jersey families, as they continue to face skyrocketing premiums and soaring deductibles. Further, because of the Affordable Care Act, many have lost access to their doctor of choice, and have not been able to enroll in the insurance plan that fits their needs. In addition, Obamacare continues to wreak havoc in the job market. The Affordable Care Act, I think, has damaged many small businesses by raising taxes, discouraging hiring, and encouraging fewer working hours, and in effect lowering wages of employees. And Obamacare seems to be collapsing across the nation, with insurance companies fleeing the individual market in droves. Here in New Jersey, there’s a strong prospect of having only one insurance provider, where before I think we had five or six. Last week I voted for an improved healthcare act, legislation that takes steps to increase flexibility for individuals purchasing health coverage, while ensuring vital safety nets for those who need them the most. Specifically, the new, improved bill maintains exceptions for pre-existing conditions. I’ll expand on that in a moment. It allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, and it maintains a ban on lifetime caps. It also maintains – and this is important – essential health benefits as the federal standard. It does remove the Obama individual mandate, which imposed an IRS penalty on people who chose not to buy insurance. It removes the employer mandate, which forced companies with over fifty employees to provide coverage. As I mentioned, many companies have told me over the last six years that they’ve reduced hiring and employee hours as a result of the passage of that bill. It [re]places subsidies, which could only be used in the Obamacare exchanges. It provides a portable, advanceable, and refundable tax credit based on age and income that can be used for any plan of your choice. It repeals the ACA’s taxes, like those on insurers, medical devices, and over the counter medications, which have subsequently been passed on to consumers, increasing the cost of healthcare. It increases the amount individuals contribute to their Health Savings Account, and it establishes most importantly a $138 billion-dollar fund to help states stabilize their markets and lower costs for consumers. And most importantly, it increases funding for a number of community health centers, 422 million. And I believe there’s one center in every county I represent, in Morris, Essex, and Passaic, and Sussex county. With all that said, I fully support the notion that we must protect access to care for those with pre-existing conditions. And under the American Health Care Act, which passed the house, insurance companies cannot deny anyone coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Further [unintelligible] required to have other protections in place for people with pre-existing conditions. Even if a state does obtain a waiver, and I wouldn’t expect New Jersey to have that, as long as you’ve been continuously covered, you still cannot be charged more, and the bill provides added resources to help people in waiver states to [??] coverage if they’ve not been continuously covered. The bottom line: there are many levels of protection for those with pre-existing conditions. This bill, passed by the house, is just one part of the legislative process. While additional proposals to lower healthcare costs, including us taking a look at tort reform, or selling insurance across the line, are probably likely to be considered, they could not be included in our bill to meet requirements of the congressional budget reconciliation process. They are expected to be included in a second or more bills that will complement the American Health Care Act. But to return to where I started on this topic, Obamacare is failing across the country, and failing to act on our part is not an option.

Of course, there are many other issues in the headlines today: potential tax reform, trade policy, North Korea, threats, Iran’s troublemaking, and more. We’ll have time to discuss these important issues further this afternoon or this evening. I’d like to get your thoughts and opinions on these and a whole range of subjects. Please don’t hesitate to hit the 0 at any time, to ask a question or make a comment. Please also visit my website at Frelinghuysen.house.gov. There you can sign up for my weekly e-newsletter. I’m listening.

First caller, do we have a caller? Will in Sparta, thanks for joining my telephone town hall meeting.

WILL: Hello, hi, Congressman Frelinghuysen, how are you?

RF: Very well, thank you.

WILL: The question I have is concerning the quick vote last week. Why did you feel it was necessary to vote on the changed healthcare act last week rather than waiting for the CBO score?

RF: Well, personally I think it’s good to have the CBO score, but I think there was a feeling that we needed to act and get a bill to the senate so we can get them to act on it. Basically, you know, I would have preferred to vote on legislation after the CBO had had the opportunity to score the additional changes, but a vote was scheduled very quickly, and I anticipate quite honestly that the CBO – that’s the Congressional Budget Office – will be able to update their original score to reflect changes made to our bill before a final version of this legislation is voted upon, so we will get a score from CBO.

Erin in East Hanover, this is Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. You’ve joined by telephone town hall meeting. Thanks for getting on the line.

ERIN: Hi Congressman, thank you so much for having this town hall. I got into it a little bit late, because I wasn’t aware that it was occurring until you were about halfway through speaking about the pre-existing conditions clause, so I’m not sure if this is something that you would have covered, but I note that you indicate that the coverage is going to be available, but at what cost? At what cost to people who have a lapse in insurance who have pre-existing conditions?

RF: Well, let me just say for the record – and I’ve actually read the bill; I think some members of congress were put on the spot – section 136 of the bill clearly states nothing in this act shall be construed as permitting health insurance issuers to limit access to health coverage from individuals with pre-existing conditions. Let me say, this is a hot issue, I believe that we need to provide access for those, for people with pre-existing conditions. I’ve heard from a lot of people. Under this legislation, I want to make it clear, insurance companies cannot deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. And there are some instances here where people do lose it, but if there’s a way to make sure that they’re covered if there’s a brief period of time without exacting too much of a penalty, I’ll be certainly trying to do that. 

ERIN: Well . . .

RF: Thank you.

Beverly in Kinnelon, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. You’ve joined my telephone town hall meeting.

BEVERLY: Yes, this is Beverly. I’d like to know when congress is going to put a lock-box on Social Security so they cannot steal the money from it.

RF: Well, there’s been talk of a lock-box on Social Security. All money is fungible, but I agree with the concept of a lock-box, but I don’t think that that’s imminent, but we need obviously to take a look at who pays into Social Security. It’s a special program, and there are people that  tap into SSI under Social Security Supplemental Income that haven’t been paid into it. So I think congress needs to address those people who are benefitting from Social Security that haven’t paid into it. 

BEVERLY: I paid into Social Security my entire working life.

RF: Yes.

BEVERLY: And now that I’m retired, there’s no COLAs for me, and a lot of other seniors.

RF: Well, there are . . . the COLAs over the last couple of years have been pretty limited. They’re basically done by, I think, the US Department of Labor, sort of does a market-basket approach on cost of living increases, and I’m not suggesting that things are better, but certainly one the reasons that the cost of living is down is that fuel prices have been down, and that’s one of the major impacts on the overall COLA issue. 

John in Morris Plains, you’ve joined my telephone town hall meeting. Thanks for your patience.

JOHN: Hello, congressman. Thank you for having this town hall. My question is, the bill that you just passed, does it affect Medicare in any way whatsoever?

RF: The bill does not change in any way Medicare benefits or eligibility. Plain and simple. It does repeal the Affordable Care Act, which imposed a 3.8% Medicare payroll tax on unearned income, starting in 2023, which would decrease some revenue into Medicare. I can assure you that I support ensuring the Medicare trust viability. But I think it was important to provide relief form that tax that was placed on unearned income six years ago. But it does not change Medicare benefits or eligibility, although people are suggesting that it does. It does not.

Pam in Randolph, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. Thanks for joining my telephone town hall meeting. 

PAM: Hi this is Pam from Randolph.

RF:  Thank You.

PAM: So my question, and I’ve heard sort of mixed things and I’ve read mixed things. Was there a clause in this bill where congress exempted themselves from the regulations they are passing, or are they also going to be bound by what they give to the American public?

RF: Yeah, let me assure you that I belong to the Washington exchange now under the existing law. I don’t belong to any exchange here in NJ. And may I say I strongly believe that the members of congress and our staff along must abide by the same laws as everyone else. There is an amended section which was put into this ACHA that would not apply to members of congress, but we will be not exempt, both House and Senate members from any provisions of the ACHA should it become law. We will be right in there with you. We’re not going to have any exceptions, members of congress are not going to be the exceptions.  We’re not exempt. 

PAM: You’re not exempt, OK. 

RF: They’re definitely not exempt. Thank you. Aurora in Mendham. Welcome. Thanks for getting on the phone.

Aurora's husband:  (Unintelligible)… I’m her husband.

RF: Sorry to hear that, I hope everything’s alright.

Aurora’s husband: Yes, she’s doing the best she can, thank you very much, Congressman. The question that she would have is, why has there been all this emphasis on fixing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it? Why don’t you just fix it, and then how many more members of your constituency do you think are going to die under the Republican healthcare than in Obamacare?

RF: Well we don’t want anyone to die, I can assure you. And may I say, well I think a lot of people suggested that a similar situation would happen under Obamacare in terms of the death panels and things of that nature. I think it’s important to save the healthcare system, which is failing, and we need to make sure we have some insurers that are wiling to provide healthcare in NJ. We had 5 or 6, and now we have only 1, perhaps and I guess that’s Blue Cross Blue Shield. We don’t want anyone to die as a result of what we’re doing and we’ve been very careful to make sure that that would never happen. Virginia in Chatham, its Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, you’ve joined my telephone town hall.

Virginia: Yes, hello. The reason I wanted to speak to you is that I was concerned about the new taxes that, I know it’s only preliminary, but they’re working on the tax plan and one of the new things was to decrease the deduction and simplify it. But the thing is in NJ, our property taxes are not equitable really to anywhere else, we pay so much property taxes and that property deduction is humongous for my family. Not to mention 3 kids in college, the college deductions. It may simplify things, but I think that for a lot of your people here in NJ, it will actually make it harder for us not to have deductions because it doesn’t work out when you do the math with the numbers they’ve given us so far.

RF: You should know I continue to support that deduction. States like NJ, NY, PA in the Northeast, it’s absolutely critical to families and I support it. There’s been some talk in the White House, some preliminary discussions. I don’t think that any members of congress from the Northeast in high-tax states where we have such incredible high taxes, property taxes, would be supportive of it. I definitely would not be supportive of it.

Virginia: So you would not support it if they included that deduction?

RF: I would NOT support it.

Virginia: OK, thank you very much, I appreciate it.

RF: Ok, Lia in Denville, it’s Congressman Frelinghuysen. You’ve joined my telephone town hall. 

Lia: Thank you, Congressman Frelinghuysen. I’m concerned about the Affordable Care Act, especially the preexisting conditions portions of it. I don’t understand why the bill was pushed through in such a hurry when you didn’t even give the Congressional Budget Office an opportunity to review the cost completely. Now I understand that it’s very very very important to give the wealthiest people a major tax break, something like $800 million I believe, but my grandson is one of those people who is going to be very poorly affected by the preexisting condition act. There might be a time in his life when he is either not going to be able to get coverage for a condition that he has had since birth, or the coverage is going to be so expensive that he can’t even afford it. And I just wanted to know, what was the rush, why couldn’t the bill that I heard you say the Senate has the chance to fix the problems with the bill, why didn’t you people fix it before it went on the floor?

RF: Let me first of all assure you as I had a few minutes to go, that I share your support for protecting access to anyone, especially your grandchildren or any child. And under this legislation, insurance companies cannot deny anyone coverage based on preexisting conditions and in Section 138, the bill clearly states, and I quote, “nothing in this acts shall be construed as permitting health insurance issuers to limit access to health coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions.”

Lia: Yes and you charge them up the wazoo for it… 

RF: One the bill starts. Interestingly, each section of the bill, and the bill is I think 300 pages, passed through all of their respective committees; Energy and Commerce, the Ways and Means Committee, after a combined I think it was 45 hours of debate and mark-ups, then the bill was considered by the budget and rules committee, all of this in open session. And just for the record, the house has already had over 100 hearings on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, and so it’s been out in the public really since last June in Speaker Ryan’s Healthcare Task Force.

Lia: Not this version.

RF: Well actually, it’s been out there for 3 or 4 weeks now, and I think that it’s a lot better than some of us that said some of the portions were not being met including essential health benefits and further projections for pre-existing conditions, so it’s a lot better than it was, and I think we need to get the Senate to act on it. Uh, Linda in Morristown. 

Linda: Yes, Congressman, you’ve been an enormous supporter of steps that have been taken to counter terrorism, you’ve also been an enormous support of the State of Israel and I am particularly concerned with the fact that the US government is providing millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority which is then turning around and taking that money and essentially paying terrorists. They’re paying terrorists in jail, they’re paying terrorists who they claim to be heroes that are essentially murdering people for walking in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and I’m wondering what other steps the US can take to stop this.

RF: Well, as you know, we provide money a lot of money to support Israel, about $3 Billion in foreign aid and assistance. And in my former committee and but now I chair the big committee, we provide money for Iron Dome, we provide for Israeli defense to what’s called the Arrow Program, I think you’re probably intimately familiar with those programs, those layered programs that prevent missiles from. 

Linda: I am and I know you’ve been a big supporter of them…

RF: And let me say, there is money. I don’t have any use for the Palestinian Authority, but we’ve put in the foreign aid section of our appropriations bill all sorts of restrictions promoting transparency of the dollars that are given to the Palestinian Authority, to the PLO and I have to say even with those restrictions I would agree with you that a lot of the issues you raise with the misuse of those funds, rewarding people who’ve committed terrorist acts, I think its important to make sure we put more restrictions in our appropriations bill looking towards 2018 for the very reasons that you say. Thank you – Kenneth in Parsippany, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, you’ve joined my telephone town hall. 

Mary: Hi, I’m Mary and first of all Rodney, I’d like to thank you for the good job that you do and have done over the years. I’ve always said to everyone that if you have a problem and call his office, you will get a response, and for the things that you’ve actually done for the constituents In NJ as far as Picatinny Arsenal and the vets, and you could just go on and on. And I don’t like all the things, the negative things I see in the newspaper, that certain groups do come out and say. The fact of the matter is that I sure would like to see more truthful reporting, especially in the news when the president came to Bernardsville, they were on the news of oh the small town has to pay and yet there was a bill passed where they’re going to get help. I really wish there was a way that congress could get together and truthfully bring out all the facts.

RF: Well I think facts are important, and let me give a shout out to my staff. My staff has been subject to, and I believe in free speech and I obviously endorse my constituents’ rights and let me know their view, my office staff has been subject to a lot of phone calls from 8:30 in the morning to 5:00 at night. I just want to give them alto of credit for their hard work and the courtesy that they extend to all of our callers. We’ve been getting callers from all over the country that have been full of vitriol, a lot of anger, and I just think people have the right to speak out but I just want to, for people that have jammed our lines and made it difficult for our constituent needs, it will be nice for you to back off. I’m not suggesting that people don’t have the right to speak and let their views be known, but some of this is highly orchestrated and it’s unfortunate. I just want to credit my staff for the good work they do in meeting the needs of constituents and I thank you for raising the issue. Thank you very much.

Mary: Yeah, because you’re what you do for your constituents is very important. And people like that, you can’t get problems out that you personally have. So I appreciate everything that your office does, thank you. 

RF: Okay, thank you, thank you very much. Michael in Madison.

Mike: I have a question on the Iran Nuclear deal…. (unintelligible)….  in 2023, Iran will be able to pursue a nuclear weapon, yet I can remember much like it was yesterday 9/11 and it’s been 15 years, 10 years are gonna go by very very fast. What will we have accomplished by allowing Iran to just wait 10 years to pursue a nuclear weapon?

RF: Well, as you know, congress has voiced its concern and may I say it’s bi-partisan about the Iranian deal that was put together by President Obama’s administration. We understand that the notion that Iran some nuclear capability and desires, and they still have the desire to exterminate, do horrible things to the State of Israel and the United States of America, so I didn’t approve the deal.  And we know that the Iranians are doing bad things in Syria, they’re doing bad things with the good force, the Republican guard and a variety of places in North Africa and across the Middle East, so I don’t think giving them 10 years should be any security blanket for us, because quite honestly I’m not even sure the inspectors, in many ways, they do their own self-inspection. The nuclear folks that are supposed to be monitoring the Iranian nuclear capability, I don’t think that they have the access that they need and furthermore, Iran continues to export terrorism. They are supporting Hezbollah across the board both politically and militarily with lots of money. So, I have no trust in Iran. I think, I think in Congress most members of Congress, Republican, Democrat, sort of agree with me that this is a deal, this is the deal that’s given the Iranians a lot of money to do more bad things around the world and cause trouble and mayhem and promote terrorism.  So I’m not happy about what we’ve done.  And hopefully the new administration and Congress will continue to put more restrictions on Iran’s, Iran’s capabilities, both potentially nuclear as well as conventional weapons.  Thanks for bringing the issue up. 

Saul, in Wayne, it’s Congressman RF.  Thank you for joining my telephone town hall.

Saul: Good day Congressman, I hope you’re well.  Thank you, thank you very much.  Um, my question to you is multi-faceted.  You said earlier today that there was a need to act, to get rid of the Affordable Care Act as quickly as possible for you to do something.  And people have said this thing was in a death spiral, which we can all know from looking at the news and reading everything else that that’s not truly the case.  What this has really become, it seems to me, is a partisan event, by both Democrats and Republicans to continue to treat the American people as if the two parties, Republicans and the Democrats were in a sporting competition of who’s gonna get the better end of it.  The fact that you will not, and that your Republican party, nor the Democratic party, will sit down and do the American health care act or any health care act in a bipartisan effort, proves that it will never work.  It hasn’t worked before under Obamacare, and it will not work under your plan as well.  So, at what point do you guys realize that you should sit down and figure out that you have to work for the American people, cause there are Democrats in your district and there are Republicans in your district, as there are in every place in the country.

RF:  Well, let me say, I agree with you.  Actually, one of the criticisms of the passable,  passage of the Affordable Care Act six years ago was that it was you know 3000 and we’ll figure out what we voted for after we vote for it.  And it was done along partisan lines. 

Saul: Which is what this is being done too.

RF:  Yes, and, personally speaking I should have hoped the leadership would have been meeting with the Democrats, because I do think the system is failing.  And, just take a look at New Jersey.  We’ve gone from, what?  5 or 6 healthcare providers in the Obama exchange.

Saul:  I agree [unintelligible]

RF:  We need to work with Republicans and Democrats together.  I agree with you.

Saul:  Part of that problem was that Marco Rubio at one point decides that he wants to change the original Affordable Care Act, which would have allowed risk corridors where health insurance companies would have been supplemented for their losses.  He decided to change that bill, which you guys voted for, therefore eliminating that provision, which eliminated the fact that these insurance providers would stay in a particular state, because you eliminated the idea, the money that would supplement them for the next, for the first three years. [33:34 RF:  Yeah.] So, basically, the Republicans tried their best to kill anything that had Obama’s name on it.  I mean, I’m a Republican, I don’t really care one way or another… but you guys are going about this in a partisan way. 

RF:  Well, I think the bottom line is Republicans need, like, Republicans and Democrats, like we did on the House Appropriations Committee, need to reach some agreement.  We reached an agreement on, on a trillion dollar appropriations bill to keep the federal government open for the next 5 months.  And I take a lot of pride that I worked side by side with Democrats to make sure we keep the government open.  We need to do that in 2018.  We cannot, as Republicans, just pass all these appropriations bills that has things to do with defense, border security, health care, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, Meals on Wheels, federal nutrition.  I mean we can take a look at what the cost drivers are, but Republicans and Democrats need to work together and I think we can do it in a way that saves money and makes sure that every taxpayer dollar counts.  Thank you.

Michelle, in Morris Plains.  It’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.  Thanks for joining…

Michelle:  Thanks.  I appreciate you taking my call.  Un, the question, the question that I have for you is regarding tort reform.  And I wanted to know why tort reform is not a part of the bill that was past, um, in order to address outlandish jury awards, like the $115 million against Johnson & Johnson for talc.  Um, if we really wanna address health care costs, why don’t we have something in legislation that’ll caps awards like the do in other countries to bring down malpractice insurance, which will reduce costs, um, by doctors, hospitals and drug companies.

RF: Well, let me say, I do support tort reform.  I can’t tell you why, but with this, with this healthcare bill, in order to sort of get the bill moving, and even if people don’t like the direction in which we’re going, there’s something called reconciliation.  And so the House and Senate have a system where you sort of deal with certain provisions.  A provision I would have liked would have been addressed is a type of tort reform.  Sort of lawsuit abuse that you’re talking about.  But given the arcane rules of both the House and Senate, the type of bill that was designed, could, did not afford, the situation did not afford itself the ability to put in tort reform.  But I think that needs to be a separate bill and it needs to be maybe the 2nd or 3rd part of this overall ability to try to salvage our healthcare system from the last six years.  But thank you for raising the issue.

RF: Clara, in Morris Plains.  It’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.

Clara: Hello Congressman.  I’d like to bring up a totally different topic.  I just heard on NPR today a piece called, Poverty… uh, let me think, Poverty, Politics and Profit.  And it turned out that they examined housing programs to see whether they’re working.  And I was shocked to find out that people have been, um, practicing fraud on a huge level.  That there hasn’t been any strong oversight.  And only apparently Senator Grassley of Iowa is one of the few looking into the program.  So I’m asking you, do you know what I’m talking about?

RF:  I haven’t seen the NPR program, but I have to say in our backyard we have a number of housing authorities in both Sussex, Morris, Passaic and Essex counties, and I can speak for the ones in western Essex, because I know the directors of those programs.  In many cases they are housing programs for senior citizens on fixed income.  Some of it’s what we call Section 8.  I’ve been very much involved with making sure that, not only do we look after older Americans that need affordable housing, but we also need to look after those with a variety of disabilities, whether it may be developmental disabilities or mental illness.  So I, there may be some instances in some of our major cities, but through my interaction with, let’s say the Madison housing authority, that does a lot of affordable housing programs.  In Morris County, Lou Ricchio.  I know there’s some good people in West, West Essex as well as in Essex County and Passaic County.  I haven’t heard of any, of any cited corruption or mismanagement, but I’ll take a look at that NPR program, and if you leave your name… [Unintelligible]...to the program and get back to you.  But…

Clara:  Thank you.  Please, it’s on tonight.  It’s called Frontline. 

RF:  Okay, Frontline.  Thanks a million.

RF:  Paul in Sparta. It’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. You’ve joined my telephone town hall meeting. 

Paul:  Good evening Congressman Frelinghuysen.  I want to commend you for your support of the American Health Care Act.  And I’d like to point out that one of the provisions that’s gonna be coming under attack is the reallocation of Planned Parenthood funding.  And I believe it’s very important that that funding be redirected to more disperse clinics and centers that will provide better care for women’s health.  For example, they do provide prenatal care, they do provide mammograms, and they do not sell body parts.  So I urge you, when this part comes under attack, that you stand fast and realize that disbursing that money to more rural locations will help more women gain the benefit of it.  Thank you for support.  And I appreciate your efforts.

RF:  Well, that, that money is being directed, as you said, it is part of the overall… this new and improved healthcare act.  Thank you for registering your concern.

Andy in Mendham.  It’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.  You’ve joined my telephone town hall meeting.

Andy: Thanks for having these.  It’s great to have a town hall where you’re not getting shouted down.  My question is about, do we have sanctuary cities in your district? And if we do, do you support the idea of, uh, the federal withholding funds to pressure them to, you know, enforce basic laws?

RF: I respect and understand, the, the nature of sanctuary and I do respect it.  But I do think if, if you’re gonna be receiving federal funds, you need to obey the law.  And I think that oughta be one of the prerequisites.  I understand where people are coming from, and, their strong beliefs and… faith-based release.  But the reality, if the federal government is gonna be giving money, I think that ...those committees, those communities should not be, that they, they should… in order to receive the money, they shouldn’t be, they shouldn’t be under the banner of sanctuary cities in order to … They shouldn’t be getting it. 

Jeff in Sparta.  It’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.  You joined my telephone town hall meeting.

Jeff: Yes, thank you very much for taking my call.  I’m in Sparta and I’m a long-time Republican.  However I do have a lot of questions about the Affordable Care Act and your voting record in the past.  There are very few things to me that a long-term Congressman like yourself, had 8 years to actually come up with really good compromising, working with Democrats on a affordable care act, was forced to vote in the last days on just a few, with few days and not able to actually look at the, uh, record and pass through the current, you know, Republican Trumpcare-type affordable care act.  And with someone with pre-existing conditions, which my wife has, I understand that you were saying earlier that pre-existing conditions are included.  But those pre-existing conditions are included with enormous, uh, enormous, uh, additional funds that have to be put into that to be able to afford it.

RF: We, we, we put …

Jeff:  ...for 30 years, every year it’s been going up almost 20% despite what you call Obamacare.  So… I… okay?

RF: First of all… your wife has a pre-existing condition, and I just wanna say for the record, section 136 of the bill clearly states ‘nothing in this act shall be construed as permitting health insurance, insurers, to limit access to health coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions.  I… I think I’m supporting a bill that, provides, you know, for pre-existing conditions.  Under our legislation insurance companies cannot -

Jeff: Cost prohibitive.  Cost prohibitive.  Cost prohibitive.  I cannot afford to buy a yacht.  I just can’t.  You know, I could, I’m able to buy a yacht.  It’s there, but I cannot afford a yacht.  I have to be able to cover my wife.

RF:  You know… I, I agree with you and I think what we’ve, what we’ve passed, and certainly there’ll be some improvements in the Senate.  [Unintelligible] 

Michael in Rockaway.  It’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.

Michael?  Michael in Rockaway, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.  You’ve joined my telephone town hall meeting. 

[no answer] 

Uh – Lisa in Mendham, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. You’ve joined my telephone Town Hall meeting.

Lisa: Hi Congressman! I was initially going to ask you about, uh, the new Affordable Care Act, but I know you’ve answered this question several times. While I was waiting, I see that President Trump has fired, um, FBI Director Comey and I wanted to know what Congress is going to do to – I know this is not your area, but what they’re going to do to hold Trump accountable for potential – for his potentially breaking the law in dealing with Russia? 

RF: Well certainly there’s some – some people have suggested he’s broke the law… I, uh, I’ve never met Director Comey and now I just heard through the wire service that he’s been fired. I always –

Lisa: Right. That happened while we’ve been on this call.

RF: Yeah. He had the reputation – I’ve never met him – he had the reputation like his predecessor, Bob Mueller, Robert Mueller, of being sort of a straight arrow guy. But, you know, I know he just testified before the Senate about, I think, what he felt was, what he felt a little bit nauseous about his involvement you know making a variety of comments on, uh, on, uh Secretary Clinton’s emails and that whole episode of being… but, you know, I do think that he was an honorable man, and represents an amazing department. I, uh, I was surprised that he’s gone, but in this business, I guess nothing is too surprising (laughs). But thanks again on the line. 

Lisa: What – [cut off]

RF: Uh, yes, Mike in Parsippany, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. Thanks for joining my telephone Town Hall meeting. 

Mike: Hello Rodney. Our family has always supported you, we will always continue to support you. Just a couple of comments I would like to make – observations, if I may. One of those, one of your previous callers talked about the tort reform – my answer to her would have been “As long as the majority of politicians in Washington are lawyers, we will never see tort reform.” That’s my pessimistic view.

RF: Alright.

Mike: I really called – I really called for, uh, Social Security. Now, I, uh, Washington put no money into Social Security. I paid into it for 60 years, along with my employers. Washington put nothing into it. That’s my money. So when they call that a benefit, or they’re gonna control it, I really object to that. That’s my money. If they don’t want to handle my money properly, then give it back to me and I’ll invest it and, and, take care of myself and they can keep what’s left.

RF: No – Social Security, Mike, Social Security is unlike other entitlements because by and large-

Mike: Don’t use the word – Rodney, forgive me – I hate the word “entitlement”. That’s not an entitlement -

RF: It’s not an entitlement –

Mike: That’s our money. 

RF: It’s something people have paid into. It’s different than Medicaid and Medicare.

Mike: Exactly! It’s our money. We paid that money. All of our lives.

RF: Absolutely. We need to protect and preserve it. We need to make sure that the only people who draw from Social Security, Mike, are people who have paid into it. One of the problems is – over the years, people have been taking money out of Social Security – oftentimes, people who are recent immigrants, depending on their age, have been able to qualify for Social Security.

Mike: I know –

RF: We need to take a look at that. Thank you Mike! Appreciate you being on the line. Uh – Robert in Denville. It’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.

Robert: Yeah – hello Rodney. I want you to know, I still have your sign up. They were stealin’ ‘em during the election.

RF: Alright.

Robert: Property tax deduction – very important, because I have no mortgage. I worked my entire life, and I also have a farm that’s not farmland (unintelligible), so I have a lot of property tax, and if I lose it, I’m gonna just go under.

RF: Well – I support, I support keeping that deduction. I did tell people earlier on the call that it’s important to a high tax state like us, especially given our property taxes that we continue that deduction so I think you’ll find that most members of Congress I would assume from the Northeast and high tax states, high property tax states, would continue to support that deduction. But thanks for getting on the line.

Robert: Thank you very much for the good work.

RF: Thank you. Uh – Chris in Randolph, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. You’ve joined my telephone Town Hall meeting.

Chris: Hi Congressman – thank for doing this town hall meeting, I appreciate it. I always send you fun letters every once in a while to say “hello” and, uh, give you my opinion. 

RF: Absolutely.

Chris: I’m a small business owner. I have 4 partners – we’re all owners. Um – and we have a few employees. Uh – our healthcare insurance is just out of control and I’m not seeing enough good detail or good analysis of the new, um, proposed Act on how it’s gonna help small businesses – and I’ll give you a for example: we pay family coverage at $1,922.00 a family for health care a month uh, which, do the math – it’s over $24,000.00 a year. We have lousy coverage, um, and it keeps going up every year – 8 to 10 to 12 percent, and when it doesn’t go up, we pretty much, if I do keep the costs similar each year, our copays and deductibles go up. I have a $5,000.00 deductible, I have $75.00 copays – and there’s really no choice, you know – I can pick one lousy plan, or another lousy plan as a small business and it’s just brutal. It’s killing us, and um, I don’t see a lot of change in the new, uh, AHCA. I don’t see interstate insurance policies, I don’t see –

RF: Uh – portability.

Chris: Yeah. I don’t see a lot of changes to help the small business. I see a little bit of movement on HSAs, which I welcome – because in the past, they said small businesses could have them but if you’re an owner, you couldn’t, um – which made no sense to me, and I just feel like we’re being left out in the cold.

RF: Yeah. You should know that I do support portability: being able to sell insurance across state lines. I think that would bring some costs by – if you could call my office, we can give you a list of things that relate to taking the burden off of small businesses in the bill. If you call my office, I can give you that list. Call 1-973-984-0711. But, no, of the 4,000 before this bill was introduced, I’ve probably had 5,000 letters from people, small business people, who said that cost of doing business – they want to cover their employees –

Chris: Right, we do. We pay for our employees, but it kills us. The bill is $2,000.00 a month.

RF: I have maybe 4 or 5,000 letters from people in a similar position – family run businesses, self-employed, and with the escalating costs and quite honestly, not a lot of people defending the status quo which was the Affordable Care Act. Now, of course, because we’ve made some major changes to sorta lift that burden, uh, the letters are coming the other way. But if you can call my office, we’ll get you a list out as to how small employers will benefit from the passage of this bill or at least its reconciliation with the Senate. But certainly on the issue of portability, that was, like the tort reform, that was outside the ability of this bill to address those two issues – but they’re issues that need to be addressed. We need to drive down costs. We need to promote more competition and more choice, and the choices here, as I’ve sort of already indicated – we may have just Blue Cross/Blue Shield providing health care here. In some states and counties, there’s none at all. We don’t want to be in that predicament. But thanks very much.

Chris: Yeah – how do small businesses get into bigger pools? That would help us so much, you know? We just can’t do it.

RF: Yes – and I’ll be happy to see whether that’s in there. I have read the bill, but I’m not sure whether that’s in there. I’ll get back to you. Do call the office. Thank you. Thanks a lot.

Chris: OK – thank you. 

RF: Thank you. Uh, Val in Chatham, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. You’ve joined my telephone Town Hall meeting.

Val: Uh, yes – thank you for having the Town Hall, such as it is. I keep hearing you and other people in the call – some other people in the call – blaming Obamacare for some of the problems with existing healthcare and the fact is, most of them predated Obama even being elected president. Some of that was addressed by Obamacare and those, perhaps, are the flaws. But this Trumpcare thing you just voted for is even worse. And over the last 15 to 20 years where I see less and less coverage at higher and higher costs for myself, I am now in the age bracket where Trumpcare will charge me five times as much as a young, healthy person just because of my age – despite the fact that I am healthy. You don’t seem to realize – none of you folks in DC seem to realize – the problem doesn’t lie with Obamacare, it lies with these insurance companies who use my premium dollars to tell me stupid stuff like they won’t approve the anesthesiologist to go along with a surgery.  That’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield who did that.

RF: Yeah – I’m not defending Blue Cross/Blue Shield – I don’t think many people will – but there were pledges that were made when Obamacare was passed that we’d be able to keep – people would be able to keep the plan (call breaks up from -19:53 through -19:46) And NJ continues to have enhanced benefits which are important to people of all ages, I think that’s sort of why I’ve supported this new and improved bill. It’s because I have greater assurances that those two issues will be addressed. I think they’re absolutely essential. And the system is failing. And for us not to step forward to do something, uh, I think would be a great mistake. Uh – Timothy in Sparta, it’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, you’ve joined my telephone Town Hall meeting.

Timothy: Good afternoon, um, thank you for having this telephone Town Hall. I’d love to see some time where we could actually speak face to face, um, and have the opportunity to have a discussion about some of these different issues um, rather than just over the phone. But I do appreciate what you’re doing. I want to echo the last caller’s, um, information as well regarding the Affordable Care Act and the problems that quite significantly pre-dated that. Insurance companies have not necessarily been on the side of the individuals for quite some time. I am a small business owner, um, I’ve had a business since the 90’s, and year over year prior to Obamacare ever coming into play, we had, every year, substantial increases on the order of 30, 40, 50 percent in our health insurance costs. So – this is nothing new as far as the Affordable Care Act is concerned, or the new proposed health care law that you have actually voted for. And my concern is – we’re not addressing the problem that is in play. The bill that you signed to approve, um, had about a 17 percent approval rating. The Congressional Budget Office did not give any kind of a rating on the costs involved for this plan. 

RF: Yeah. I understand.

Timothy: OK – I’m glad you understand, but my concern is – what can be done about this? You know –

RF: Well I think you pointed out over the last 20 years, insurance costs have escalated and there wasn’t, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there were certain things that the President pledged and, you know, like keeping your doctor if you liked it, and that there would be more doctors participating. You know, I know plenty of doctors down in our neck of the woods that aren’t participating because the level of reimbursement is so low. And let me say – on the insurance companies – I hear from a lot of families and a lot of small businesses that they are being denied coverage for all sorts of things and we spend an enormous amount of time in our Congressional office going to bat for – against insurance companies that are denying pretty important coverage. Thank you very much.

It looks like we have time for one more question.  After that, those remaining on the line will be transferred to voicemail, where they can ask questions and leave comments.  You should know I listen to each message, but these telephone town halls have had such great participation, that you can … I assure you that I’ve received dozens upon dozens of comments. Please know your opinion is valuable to me.  Just a reminder, if you’d like to receive my weekly newsletter, you can visit my website at frelingheysen.house.gov. 

One last question from Genevieve, in Morristown.  Thanks for getting on the line.  Hi, it is Rodney Frelinghuysen.  You’ve joined my telephone town hall meeting. 

George:  Yes Congressman, this is George from Morris Township.  I have a question related to the president’s proposed tax bill; at this point not fully fleshed out obviously, but I’m concerned about the proposal to eliminate deductions for things such as real estate taxes, medical deductions, and so on, which in New Jersey can be quite a bit in spite of the fact that …

RF: Yeah, I’m against the loss of those deductions.  I don’t think it will go anywhere but we’ll see.  I’m actually voting against it.

George:  Pharmaceutical costs themselves are very high, and my wife and I bear carrying long term care insurance which is about $8,000 a year for that alone, plus Medicare premiums, so all of those would be eliminated, and in spite of the fact of the standard deduction being doubled that would not be a fair swap.  And I would then question the … the claim that he’s going to do great things and have these huge reductions in taxes for middle income people.  It wouldn’t come out that way.

RF:  Well I can assure you that what the President may propose - and may I say this respectfully - that what the president proposed in what they say is the skinny budget, and … before we even got thru the appropriations process he sort of rolled out a tax plan without a lot of detail, and I say this respectfully, the President can propose whatever he wants –

George:  Well even the Secretary of the Treasury, Mnuchin, has been quoted as saying that he couldn’t promise that middle income people wouldn’t pay more.  So there is some question in their minds as well and this is a first blush approach … 

RF:  Well, I like the notion that the Secretary of the Treasury has some degree of independence.  I understand the issue of loyalty to the chief executive but I think it is important for, you know, people to speak the truth to power and do it and do it in a respectful way

George:  I hope that the … I support the tax bill certainly reducing the tax on businesses, small businesses and large businesses, and those businesses would include pharmaceutical and manufacturing … hopefully the tremendous amount of  additional profit they would gain would help them to reduce the cost of pharmaceutical drugs, which a lot of people, I’m sure you know, very well know, a lot of us have spent a lot of money on.

RF: Well certainly proud of our pharmaceutical base, but as you know there has obviously been a lot of focus on executive salaries, which seem to be incredibly high.  But I think our pharmaceutical base … and I’ve been supporting the medical device pharmaceutical base … I think they need to come to the table in a responsible way to make sure that some of the benefits, tax benefits, they’ve sought and they receive help us reduce overall healthcare costs.  So I will agree with you and you can be darn sure that I’ll be working on it.  

George:  Thanks a million. 

RF:  As a reminder.  Just want to thank everybody for getting on the phone this evening for my telephone town hall meeting and if you have any questions please your name and your number.  We’ll get back to you in Morristown, my congressional office is 973 984 0711.  Please call and give me any comments or concerns; any materials we can send out to you on the new health care bill.  We’ll get some more information obviously on the new tax bill.  It is good to be talking with you and hearing from you.  Thank you very much.