While Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-Eden Prairie) headlined an exclusive forum hosted by the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning, some of his constituents stood outside, waiting for him in the thickening downpour.
Bearing signs asking, "Where's Erik?" they say Paulsen's office has ignored their phone calls and emails requesting a town hall to talk about healthcare.
In January, Paulsen voted to begin the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act before Congress had come up with a replacement for it. House Republicans' proposed alternative eventually failed to get enough votes.
However, healthcare changes are still likely to pass. President Donald Trump's budget proposal calls for an 18 percent cut in Health and Human Services, as well as altering the funding model for states' Medicaid programs for low-income Americans.
Instead of the federal government shouldering a certain percentage, it would allot each state a capped amount regardless of rising costs. Minnesotans with disabilities, their families, and their caretakers worry that with this system, the state's homecare crunch will only worsen in coming years.
Art and Jane Price of Coon Rapids have a 46-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Price, who is nonverbal and eats through a feeding tube. For everyday survival, Elizabeth relies on a homecare worker who is paid $11 an hour through Medicaid. Without this, Elizabeth would have to live out the rest of her life committed to a state nursing homes or hospital.
"She is the heart and soul of our family, and we are very, very worried about Elizabeth, as she has Medicaid. With these Medicaid block grants, we're going to be in trouble," Art says. "That's why we're here. We're testing Erik Paulsen's stance on healthcare. We just think he's a jerk for doing that."
Erik Paulsen (R-Eden Prairie) has voted as one of Congress' most ardent supporters of Trump, including plans to health care for disabled people.
Jane says she's tried to tell Paulsen about her family's situation by calling his office, writing to his government email, and posting on his Facebook page. He has never responded, she says.
"We see him post real insipid little pictures of him meeting with business people and a few handicapped people, and we say, 'What are you doing for these people?' Jane says. "I know there are people that don't think our daughter is a valuable person in society. And yet, she is."
Deb Howze, a homecare worker who lives in Brooklyn Park, says the cuts that Paulsen supports are depressing the families she works for.
"When I go into work and people are looking at the TV saying, 'Oh, am I gonna be able to be on my oxygen?' It makes me sick," she says. "Because I got people who are on oxygen, people who have cancer, they take a medical cab. If there are further cuts, well, we'll be on the unemployment line, that's for sure."
Paulsen did not emerge from the Chamber of Commerce to acknowledge the group.
If she could speak with the congressman, Howze says she would ask him to have a little empathy for her and her clients.
"Rep. Paulsen, do you understand what you're doing to the people here? You're causing people a lot of stress, causing heart attacks. If you think that people and their families aren't needing this healthcare, they wouldn't be on it."
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