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Pa. Democrat holds town hall on health care law

POTTSVILLE, Pa. (AP) – A Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania on Friday rebuked President Barack Obama’s insistence that people could keep their health insurance under the federal health care law, but he did not waver from his support for the law in front of a critical, skeptical and answer-seeking town hall meeting crowd.

Rep. Matt Cartwright, a freshman, held the meeting on the law in the wake of an uproar over its website woes and insurers discontinuing plans that don’t meet the law’s standards. He acknowledged that Obama should not have said that the law would allow everybody to keep their health insurance plan, if they wanted to keep it.

“He shouldn’t have said that,” Cartwright said, as some of the approximately 100 attendees seated in the Sovereign Majestic Theater salted in their own criticism.

“It’s a lie,” called out several people, including Lola Smith, who was notified in recent weeks that her health care plan _ with its approximately $240 premium for basic health care, but no dental or prescription coverage _ will disappear.

Cartwright started again, “What he should have said …” before attendee Smith, 63, interrupted him.

“It doesn’t matter what he should have said,” she finished.

Still, Cartwright, who represents northeastern Pennsylvania’s biggest cities and some of its fading anthracite coal towns, including Pottsville, insisted some elements of the 2010 law are already up and working.

In response to a question about what he tells people whose health insurance policies are being canceled, Cartwright stressed that plans that are being discontinued are not necessarily comprehensive.

“You get what you pay for and there are policies out there that are illusory,” Cartwright said. “You think you have health insurance, but you don’t really have health insurance.”

He also sought to defend the law in broad terms, warning that the cost of covering the uninsured was sinking community hospitals in his district.

Several people at the town hall brought insurance company papers telling them that their policy was being canceled on Jan. 1. Some wondered whether and how they can get low-cost coverage from plans sold through the law’s health care online marketplaces. In Pennsylvania, where Republican Gov. Tom Corbett did not sign onto the law’s expansion of Medicaid, the answer is complicated: There is likely to be a doughnut hole of the working poor who don’t qualify for Medicaid, but cannot shop for a subsidized plan on the marketplace.

Smith, 63, a self-employed hairdresser, found that a plan sold through the marketplace would be significantly more expensive to cover things like prescription drugs, dental care and maternity care that she doesn’t feel she needs.

Cartwright is a supporter of the law, even though he was not in office for its 2010 enactment. But a backlash over the law helped drive Democrats from office and Republicans into the House majority.

Republicans are hoping the law will prove unpopular and deliver them a decisive victory in next year’s midterm elections. Democrats hope it’ll deliver on its promise of nearly universal health insurance and endear voters to them.

Schuylkill County, where Pottsville is the county seat, has high unemployment, at 8.9 percent in August, and its voter registration leans Republican. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney beat Obama, 56 percent to 43 percent. Cartwright last year unseated the previous officeholder, conservative Democrat Tim Holden, when lines redrawn by Republicans shifted more Democrats into the district.

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