Central Pennsylvania Residents on Proposed Senate Healthcare Bill

Jul 11, 2017

A red, white and blue painted pickup truck is displayed on the side of the road next to a Trump sign in Howard, PA. In the bed of the truck, a Hillary Clinton doll stands inside a jail cell while a Trump figurine mans a machine gun.

Rural areas in Pennsylvania helped secure the state for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

However, a good deal of opposition to the healthcare bill Republican Senators are now struggling to push through can be found in the conservative areas surrounding State College. 

In the fall of 2016, Centre Hall’s Pennsylvania Avenue was lined with signs in support of Donald Trump.

82-year-old David Corl lives just off that main street. He was a lifetime Republican, but recently changed parties.

“I cannot understand what the GOP is getting at," Corl said. "They say they’re for making America great? I don’t see that happening.”

Corl’s grandson has a pre-existing condition and is dependent on Medicaid for his healthcare. Corl worries his grandson may lose his coverage under the Senate plan.

“We are living on a fixed income," Corl said. "We can’t afford the health care that they’re trying to provide for us. And I don’t know what we’re going to do. The only thing I know to do is just not have insurance, and play it by ear.”

Only 17% of Americans approve of the Senate’s bill. Even among conservatives, it’s unpopular — only 35% of Republicans approve, according to a poll conducted jointly by NPR, PBS Newshour and Marist.

At Burkholder’s Country Store in Millheim, there were mixed opinions about the proposed bill. Some, like Tom Haupt, are excited about certain components.

“Inside the bill, they actually have, it’s sort of like a nomination deal to where people can sorta decide what type of coverage they want, and that will be nice because it will be able to meet more of the needs of them specifically as opposed to somebody that doesn’t need something for, say like cancer or diabetes, you know," Haupt said. "They can focus on what program they would like to use inside the bill.”

Walter Thomas was in Aisle 4. Thomas is a conservative, but he said the bill’s proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood give the government too much control over the private lives of its citizens.

“Government should stay out of people’s sex lives," Thomas said. "We need to do what we can to help people receive their objectives for childcare. The way I look at it, I’m not the one having the kids, so let the women decide what they want.”

At a Sheetz gas station in Altoona off the highway, some customers said their biggest concern is cuts that may come to Medicaid.

State College resident Sue Gaertner said she has a handicapped son who heavily relies on Medicaid. This bill would cut $772 billion from the program by 2026.

“It’s terrible," Gaertner said. "It’s a disgrace. And, the other thing is the tax break for the wealthy, which is ridiculous.”

71% of Blair County voters endorsed Trump, and 67% voted for Pat Toomey, who has played a part in creating the Senate bill. On a recent town hall broadcast, Toomey said Obamacare put more burden on the federal government than on states to pay for Medicaid.

“This program was already unsustainable; Obamacare made it more unsustainable. And what our legislation does is it transitions over the course of seven years to where the federal government and the state governments will each pay their fair share,” Toomey said.

Altoona resident Debra Morris said Obamacare is just as unpolished as the new proposed healthcare bill.

“I never liked Obamacare," Morris said. "I didn’t think it was very effective. The people that I knew personally who were affected by it ended up paying more or paying penalties. That didn’t seem right to me.”

She wants to see healthcare available to as many people as possible at a reasonable cost.

“You have to find a balance between taking care of people who do need taken care of and just making it a free for all," Morris said. "That’s not easy. And it really sorta has to be done on an individual basis and how the heck do you do that for a whole nation?”

Altoona resident Randy Barr said he’s disabled and would be hurt financially if this bill were passed.

“I’m against it," Barr said. "Totally against it. I’m against the Medicaid they are trying to take away from the people, disability and everything. Through the Medicaid, just everything they help me out with. I think they should take their time on it instead of just trying to rush it through.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he hopes to reschedule the vote on the bill for this week when lawmakers return to Washington.