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Walden defends health care vote

PENDLETON — U.S. Rep. Greg Walden defended his vote to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, telling constituents at a series of town hall meetings that he saw last week's action as a way to fix a failing system.

Oregon's lone Republican congressman faced vocal crowds Monday in Baker City, Elgin and Wallowa, the East Oregonian reported. Though Walden heard from constituents angry about his vote, not all the feedback was negative in the strongly conservative territory.

"People are being priced out of the market today," Walden told an audience of more than 100 people at Baker High School. "We're trying to figure out how do we save these exchange markets so they will work."

When asked how many Oregonians stand to lose coverage under the new proposal, Walden said it's not easy to predict, drawing jeers from the crowd.

A recurring question was whether the Obamacare replacement would cover patients with preexisting medical conditions. The current rules require insurers to accept such patients and charge them the same premiums as healthy people of the same age.

Joe Hayes, 34, said in Baker City that his daughter spent the first month of her life in the hospital hooked up to medical equipment. Though she died seven months later, Hayes said the Affordable Care Act helped to extend his daughter's life and spared their family from financial ruin.

"The last thing you want to worry about is how you will pay for emergency procedures and equipment that cost more than a house," Hayes said.

Walden said the bill includes more than $130 billion in federal money set aside to fund high-risk pools over the next decade, and Republicans added another $8 billion to help cover preexisting conditions.

More changes to the bill are also likely to come in the Senate, Walden added.

"I care deeply about people with preexisting conditions. I care deeply about people with disabilities," Walden said. "This bill will take care of them."

At his stop in Elgin, Walden asked how many people would support a universal, government-run health care system. The auditorium erupted in cheers and applause.

Ted Atkinson disagreed. The professor emeritus of business from Eastern Oregon University said people must start taking responsibility for their own health care. He said too many people suffer from self-inflicted health problems, such as alcoholism or obesity, and expect the government to pay.

At Wallowa Elementary School, Walden's last stop of the day, the proceedings reached a boiling point when two women sitting in the same row went nose-to-nose in a shouting match. The two were separated by a sheriff's deputy.

Questioners accused Walden of voting to scuttle Obamacare to give fellow Republican President Donald Trump a victory. They said he lied to Oregonians by voting for a bill that withdrew some protections for people with preexisting conditions.

"Did you read the bill before you voted for it?" asked Ruby Boyd of Joseph.

Walden assured Boyd that he read the bill.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., talks about the bills that have been passed recently in Congress on Monday during a town hall meeting in Baker City. [E.J. Harris/East Oregonian via AP]