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Rep. Schrader: Colleague Walden is key to health care changes

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Oregon Democrat urges advocates to build their case for keeping federal aid as national Republicans press for repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: PETER WONG - U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, center, turns to answer a question by TriMet board member Craig Prosser, left, at a meeting Friday, Feb. 10, with local officials at West Linn City Hall. Mayor Russ Axelrod is to the right of Schrader.U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader says some good is likely to remain despite the Republican rush to repeal President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

The reason, according to the Democrat from Canby who represents Oregon's 5th District: Oregon Republican Greg Walden leads the House committee that is likely to consider its replacement — a committee that Schrader himself sits on.

"He's a pretty balanced person as long as he's not recruiting against me," Schrader said to laughter from local officials who met with him Friday, Feb. 10, at West Linn City Hall.

Schrader's reference was to Walden's past chairmanship of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which recruited then-state Rep. Scott Bruun of West Linn to run against Schrader in 2010. Schrader, coming off his first term, won by 5 percentage points.

But Schrader said Walden is likely to be mindful of home-state interests — including a record-low number of Oregonians without some form of coverage — in the political thicket that is health care.

Walden has represented the 2nd District, which covers Oregon east of the Cascades and part of Southern Oregon for 18 years. Walden was on the boards of Hood River Memorial Hospital in his hometown and the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation.

He became chairman this year of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which handles health care legislation — a panel Schrader joined two years ago.

"Oregonians are by nature problem solvers," Schrader said after the meeting. "With a Republican and a Democrat from Oregon on the committee, I hope it will work out well."

Advice: Show gains

Schrader was responding to a question by Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas about whether Republicans and President Donald Trump would target Democratic-leaning states such as Oregon.

But Schrader also offered advice about what advocates should do to make their case for continued federal support of health care.

Schrader said states and communities should gather general data and provide specific examples of how the 2010 Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — has helped people gain access to medical services, particularly preventive and primary care.

According to federal estimates, more than 400,000 Oregonians have gained such access through state-supported care in Medicaid or private insurance. Schrader said that care is a cheaper alternative to hospital emergency rooms or jails.

"These are things that decrease your costs," he said in response to a question from Sonya Fischer, the newest Clackamas County commissioner. "Those are things I can use, in the stories you have and hard data, to make the case."

Schrader went into more detail about the politics of the Affordable Care Act, which he voted for in 2010, in an interview with Pamplin Media Group.

Given the dozens of times the House has voted to repeal it since 2011, when Republicans became the majority party, Schrader said there isn't much doubt about it this time. Republican majorities in both houses of Congress have approved a budget framework that clears the way for repeal, but an actual replacement appears many months away.

"They will get no support from any Democrat on that (repeal). That has been a consistent theme for us," Schrader said.

"However, if there are some changes they want to make, there is an opportunity for bipartisan support. I think there is a great opportunity for the Medicaid expansion to stay in place. I would like to think Republicans do not mean to repeal that."

Thirty-one states, including Oregon, expanded Medicaid under the 2010 law to cover more low-income people. That expansion accounted for about 40 percent of the additional 400,000 Oregonians who got coverage under the law; most of the rest came from private insurance.

Walden's role

Trump has said he wants to retain other features, such as parental coverage for children under age 26 and a ban on insurance exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions.

"It will depend on what they need to do to satisfy their constituents or their ideological allies," Schrader said. "At the same time, we are going to push them to make sure they cover all the people that were covered by the act."

In addition to his past chairmanship of the congressional campaign committee — he led the GOP's successful effort to win a majority in 2010 — Walden is part of the House Republican leadership.

As committee chairman, Walden has said little about the specifics of any replacement bill.

"I think Greg is probably the best person of all to have there right now, because he is a party leader, he worked hard to get them the majority, and he has a lot of respect, as shown by the fact he was chosen to be the leader of the committee," Schrader said.

"If anyone can find that fine line to move this committee and the country forward — and at the same time respect some of the predilections my Republican colleagues have — I think Greg can do it. I think he is going to have a lot of latitude to go forward. I would like to be supportive."

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