Moorhead health care town hall more subdued, suffused with concerns about insurance costs

7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson listens to Tom Ebacher
7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson listens to Tom Ebacher of Kensington, Minn., at a town hall on health care Monday in Moorhead, Minn.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

As Congress takes a break, a few in Minnesota's delegation have planned to hold town hall meetings. Back when the Republicans had a plan in the U.S. House to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, some of those meetings turned into intense, sign-waving scenes of confrontation. Even as Obamacare continues, some remain frustrated and fearful of what's to come, and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson heard from some of them at his first public town hall this year.

Around 120 people gathered in a Moorhead middle school auditorium.

"I'm here to see if anybody has got the magic solution. If you do I would love to hear it," Peterson said.

He admitted he didn't know what that solution would be, but the 7th District congressman said he was convinced successful health care legislation would require bipartisan support.

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Peterson, a Democrat, opposed many provisions of Obamacare and voted against it years ago. But he said the current law can be improved, and the Republican plan pulled before it could receive a full House vote wouldn't have fixed problems like rising costs of health care and health insurance.

The congressman, whose district went for Donald Trump in November, said he's hearing from farmers in his heavily agricultural district who can no longer afford health insurance.

"Ordinary people that make 50 grand a year cannot be paying $1,500 a month. Before they were paying $500 maybe. That was still tough. It wasn't easy but they could do it," Peterson said. "But $1,500 and $15,000 deductible? That's not having insurance."

Leann Wolff told Peterson he could be talking about her. Wolff and her husband both own small businesses nearby in the small town of Glyndon.

Wolff recalled a stark decision she made after a friend's wife was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and she realized a similar situation could bankrupt her family.

Minnesota 7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson speaks at a town hall.
Minnesota 7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson speaks during the town hall.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

"I said if I were diagnosed I would not go for treatment. I would not do that to him," Wolff said about her husband. "I would make a different choice."

"So all we can do is pray that nothing bad happens to both of us until it's fixed for everyone."

One of the groups that asked for the town hall was Indivisible FM. Organizer Nicole Mattson says the group is connected with about 3,000 people in Fargo-Moorhead. Mattson was concerned about where Peterson stood on health care.

"I feel a lot better now having heard him talk about it," Mattson said, adding she thought Peterson would "work really hard to protect our health care."

Mattson would have liked a larger crowd, but she was pleased with the discussion.

"This is what I expected from a Minnesota town hall. People politely filing up to the microphone and asking their questions and getting a respectful answer. I think this is what democracy should be like."

One approach Peterson supports would give Minnesota officials a way to go back to the health care system the state had before the Affordable Care Act. Peterson has discussed the waiver idea with the Trump administration and is trying to win support from Minnesota elected officials. Peterson also said he's open to having more meetings about health care in his district.