Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: Ignoring the death panels, and listening to legitimate concerns

Sometimes, we get lost in the drama. Sidetracked by fools, or distracted by invective.

And so the new narrative is not about health insurance and not about Medicaid, but instead how the angry middle class is forcing Republican politicians into hiding.

A congressman in California had to be rescued from a town hall meeting by a wall of cops. A congressman in New York canceled a similar event.

And a former sheriff now in the U.S. House of Representatives was recently asked to give a tutorial to his GOP colleagues on how to fortify offices and beef up security in crowded settings.

Even here, a week ago, a constituent gathering in Pasco turned into national news when the microphones went live and the conversation went brain-dead.

Yet if you were willing to tiptoe through the noise and the nonsense, there was a message to be heard. And, fortunately, the man in the front of the room was listening.

"People are concerned, and rightfully so,'' said U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who arranged for town hall meetings in Pinellas and Pasco on back-to-back weekends. "Their fears are genuine.''

Bilirakis was not there to win over a crowd. Not with Obamacare on the agenda.

Republicans may have the numbers on their side in Washington, but they do not have anything close to a mandate when it comes to the possibility of taking insurance away from tens of millions.

And that puts politicians such as Bilirakis in a bind.

Republicans got the implicit approval to repeal the Affordable Care Act from voters in November, but it's a lot harder to do when you're staring into the face of worried patients and parents in February.

That's why a lot of politicians have taken safer routes. They're conversing with voters on Facebook, or on teleconferences where speakers can be screened. Some have dropped the pretense altogether and aren't even bothering to check in with the folks back home.

Bilirakis said he couldn't, and wouldn't, go that route. He had seven town hall meetings in 2016 and wasn't going to avoid health care just because it had become an uncomfortable topic in 2017.

Before the town hall began, cops suggested to the congressman's staff that he enter and exit the building through a back door. Bilirakis declined. Instead he showed up early, and stayed late.

"More than likely, there will be a repeal. After all, we campaigned on a repeal,'' Bilirakis said. "But I feel like it's my duty and my obligation to listen to what my constituents have to say about it.''

Listening is one thing; agreeing is another.

Like the rest of the GOP, Bilirakis has been conditioned to paint Obamacare as a disaster. And yet he acknowledges the law's supporters have valid arguments on a lot of issues.

For instance, pre-existing conditions should be covered. And there should be no lifetime caps. And children up to the age of 26 should be eligible on a parent's health coverage.

Where the law goes from there is less clear. Are tax credits the answer? Will states still get enough Medicaid funding for poverty-level residents? Will we return to emergency room treatment instead of preventive care?

Bilirakis said he is confident congressional leadership will have a strategy in place soon. Until then? He will continue to listen. Another town hall meeting is planned for eastern Pasco County in the coming weeks.

Tom Timcik, center, claps during U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ town hall meeting at the West Pasco Government Center on Feb. 11.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Special to the Times

Tom Timcik, center, claps during U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ town hall meeting at the West Pasco Government Center on Feb. 11.

Romano: Ignoring the death panels, and listening to legitimate concerns 02/17/17 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2017 6:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Makeup days, accountability, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    MAKEUP DAYS: The Pasco County school district alters the daily schedule of 11 schools to make up teaching time missed because of Hurricane Irma, avoiding the …

    With students back in school after Hurricane Irma, schools across Florida begin scheduling makeup days for missed classroom time.
  2. How visiting a scenic Cuban resort can help save green sea turtles

    Wildlife

    The Florida Aquarium has been collaborating with Cuba's National Aquarium since 2015 to help save coral dying throughout Caribbean waters.

    The beaches of Cuba's Cayo Largo are home to a large population of green sea turtle nests. The Florida Aquarium will lead eco-tours of Cayo Largo next year that will help protect the turtles and fund research.  [Avalon Outdoor]
  3. Photo of the Day for September 22, 2017 - Willets taking flight

    Human Interest

    Today's Photo of the Day comes from Dan Cleary of Madeira Beach, FL.

  4. Why a true freshman quarterback doesn't kill FSU's title hopes

    College

    Florida State's James Blackman will make history Saturday when the No. 12 Seminoles host North Carolina State in their first game after Hurricane Irma.

    Florida State quarterback James Blackman warms up before a game against Alabama on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. When Florida State's Deandre Francois, Georgia's Jacob Eason and Texas A&M's Nick Starkel all got hurt in their respective season openers, true freshmen ended up taking over the rest of the way.  (Joe Rondone/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)
  5. Puerto Rico could face months without electricity after Hurricane Maria (w/video)

    Hurricanes

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The eye of Hurricane Maria was nearing the Turks and Caicos early Friday as Puerto Rico sought to recover from the storm's devastation.

    A pregnant woman carries empty plastic bottles to collect water a day after the impact of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017. As of Thursday evening, Maria was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with winds of 120 mph (195 kph). The storm was expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday. [Associated Press]