WILMINGTON — Clinton County’s congressman said he voted for the American Health Care Act of 2017 because, though he doesn’t see it as perfect, it is a step in the right direction.
“I want to continue to make it better. I fought to make it better the whole time it was in Congress and I’ll fight to make sure it makes sense for everybody, but I wanted to move the process along,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-15th District) who on Tuesday visited Wilmington.
During the visit here the News Journal interviewed him, as well as covered a roundtable discussion Stivers conducted on veterans issues.
In the interview, Stivers mentioned three parts of the health bill he thinks either could be improved or needs to be examined more closely: the pre-existing conditions piece, Medicaid expansion, and whether the tax credit provisions will be up to the job they’re meant to do.
He said he wants to make sure the final health care coverage bill continues to look after people with a pre-existing medical condition, adding “there are a lot of protections in the bill” in that regard.
Because State of Ohio officials have said they won’t ask for a waiver, nobody in Ohio with a pre-existing medical condition should have their coverage adversely affected by the American Health Care Act of 2017 as it stands, said Stivers.
Due to factors presently built into the bill, it is “a small tiny sliver” of the 7 percent of people in the individual market (those you work in a small business or who buy their own insurance) who will be in a position where insurance companies can rate them on their health, according to the congressman.
“But I’d love to see more protections for those folks, so I’m going to work to try to see what we can do to make sure there are protections there,” Stivers said.
On the Medicaid expansion piece, he said he wants to be sure the bill tries to help people there. An improvement he’d like to see is a way to help people move out of poverty-based assistance, “something like Medicaid Buy-In.”
Medicaid Buy-In for Workers with Disabilities (MBIWD) is an Ohio Medicaid program that provides health care coverage to working Ohioans with disabilities. Historically, people with disabilities could be discouraged from working because their earnings made them ineligible for Medicaid coverage. MBIWD was created to enable Ohioans with disabilities to work and still keep their health care coverage.
The third part of the bill that he thinks needs more attention is the tax credit piece.
“I also want to look at the tax credit provisions to make sure they generate enough help to allow people who can’t afford it to buy insurance. We’ve got to look at those and make sure they work at every level,” said Stivers, who is serving his fourth term as a member of Congress.
At one point in the interview the Republican said there has been a lot of misinformation about the bill, “and that’s unfortunate but that’s politics.”
Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure is one of his top priorities, Stivers has said. He does not expect an infrastructure bill to take shape until late this year or early next year. The first thing is to get the funding figured out, he added Tuesday.
The congressman, who represents parts or all of 12 south-central Ohio counties, anticipates the bill will include public-private partnerships and some public money.
“Hopefully, it will be a big infrastructure package that includes big projects like the Brent Spence Bridge,” said Stivers. That bridge carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River at Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky.
At a campaign rally in Wilmington four days before Election Day, then-candidate Donald Trump referred to the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati as “critical to the region.”
Stivers said Tuesday that although the bridge is not in the district he represents, “it’s important to my district and important to the whole country.”
There could also be an infrastructure project or two in Clinton County, Stivers said. Clinton County Engineer Jeff Linkous has a couple ideas, the congressman said, adding he thinks they’re good ideas.
Claims, employment, and helping veterans were some of the topics talked about during the roundtable discussion with Stivers.
The congressman heard from locals and organizations of the district on Tuesday at the Wilmington Municipal Building. At the beginning of the meeting, Stivers gave updates on a few legislative items including the Housing Our Military Servicemembers (HOMeS) Act, which would help veterans dealing with homelessness; the Never Again Act which would guarantee that no veteran seeking in-patient treatment gets turned away; the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act, which will try to get service dogs to military veterans, particularly ones with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
The item that got the most discussion was about Veterans Affairs claims, benefits and appeals. Paul Butler, a U.S. Navy veteran and chaplain at American Legion Post 49, said he had a problem with the Regional Directors review.
“My claim was in New Jersey, on its way I guess to D.C. I was told that if I send it back to Cleveland that they could have a regional director review it quickly,” Butler said.
He said it was performed quickly but they sent the “same standard denial form.”
“To me that says that they didn’t even look at the file. Now it’s going on the path, it’s been four years now and it’s going to be another four years,” said Butler.
“What we’ve noticed in our office is the VA, it’s not taking us as long to make ready decisions on claims but their accuracy is not what it should be,” said Ray Souder of the Clinton County Veterans Service Office.
Souder said an issue they’re seeing is they get calls from veterans who receive letters and don’t know how to interpret them.
“Veterans who do work with us, know to call us. But veterans who aren’t working with federal advocates, a lot of times just give up,” said Souder. Stivers said, “We have an obligation to our veterans who preserved our freedom so we need to do a good job of fixing this claim system.”
On the topic of veteran employment issues, Eric Salyers of Airborne Maintenance and Engineering Services (also known as AMES) said they’re always looking to hire more.
“Right now we’re about 30 percent prior military. We’ve had great luck with the veterans that we’ve hired, with scaling up, and willing to take on further training,” said Salyers.
When asked how veterans are found, he said, “a lot of hunting and calling” and through programs like Ohio Means Jobs which highlight applying veterans.
“We just wish we had more,” said Salyers.
Another item discussed was cuts proposed in the Congressional Budget Office efforts to reduce the budget. These included eliminating Concurrent Receipt of Retirement Pay and Disability Compensation for disabled veterans; restricting VA’s Individual Unemployability Benefits to disabled veterans who are younger than the full retirement age for Social Security; and narrowing eligibility for Veterans’ Disability Compensation by excluding certain disabilities unrelated to military duties.
According to Souder, the third item could refer to conditions like heart disease and multiple sclerosis.
“An argument to support this option is that it would make the Disability Compensation Office for Military Veterans more comparable to civilian systems,” said Souder.
Stivers said he would look into these issues and in regards to the third item, “We need to be thoughtful as we make these types of changes.”