Cruz discusses health care at McKinney town hall for veterans

Supporters, protestors join to greet him

Neelam Bohra, Co-Editor

Stormy weather greeted Ted Cruz at the Sheraton McKinney when he kicked off his tour around Texas with the Concerned Veterans of America. As the GOP’s health care plan waits on a senate vote, people voiced support and protest for the senator’s stance.

Cruz plans to add an amendment to the GOP’s health care legislation allowing insurers to sell plans that don’t follow the regulations of the Affordable Care Act as long as they sell plans that do follow those regulations. This idea has gained support from certain far-right senators and may be key to passing the GOP’s new healthcare legislation. Cruz began his event with talk of the Veterans Health Administration hospital, citing a scandal from 2014 in which VA (Veterans Affairs) hospitals repeatedly lied about patient wait times.

“There needs to be real accountability—it’s something I’ve been fighting for in the senate for years, to provide real accountability if there are VA employees who violate the law,” Cruz said. “If there are employees who violate the criminal law they should be prosecuted and if there are employees who wrongfully denied care, then they should be terminated or reprimanded. If you’re keeping bogus books, you should be out.”

He then moved from VA hospitals to the veterans themselves, and the negligence the country has showed them.

“I am a passionate believer that every veteran should have the right to see any doctor you choose,” he said. “It should be your decision. So, if you want to go to the VA, that’s your right. You’ve earned it. You’ve bled for it, you should have that right protected. And if you want to go to the local doctor down the street, the local cardiologist, then you should have the right to do that as well.”

One audience member and Cruz supporter, 39-year-old Eric Hall, loved the prospect of veterans’ choice.

“I’m pretty excited,” Hall said. “I’ve been a big proponent of getting choice as a U.S. Army veteran myself. I grew up in a rural town in Bonham, and one of the factors for me moving to Dallas after I finished serving was proximity to a VA clinic. You shouldn’t have to pick where you live based off of that.”

Veterans’ choice, however, needs money to work. Yet, Cruz insisted that Washington DC, and the president himself, had promised to invest in veterans’ affairs.

“I will say, the president has declared a strong commitment to VA reform, and so has the secretary,” Cruz said. “And I’m encouraged by that. That commitment to reform is an important start. Now, we need to actually have real results.”

To produce those results, the senator has introduced a new bill focused on information technology.

“If you look at private hospitals,” Cruz said, “they’re moving toward using technology to improve their inventory, improve safety, improve healthcare outcomes, and the VA has been lagging behind.”

As the event continued, Cruz weaved through subjects such as defense spending and the F-35 program in Fort Worth that manufactures fighter pilot jets.  When the Q&A session started, however, a question from small business owner and psychologist Misty Hook pushed the conversation toward the GOP’s new healthcare plan.

“I’m one of those overflow doctors who see veterans who can’t be seen by the VA, which, by the way, means I take a pay cut to do that, so it is a service that I provide because I want to help veterans,” Hook said. “When you have things saying that insurance companies can opt out of paying for mental health care, then who’s going to pay us to do that?”

Cruz answered by discussing the Affordable Care Act until 65-year-old Buddy Luce interjected from the audience. Buddy later explained he interrupted the senator because of his growing impatience.

“Somebody needed to respond to him,” Luce said. “I was tired of him talking about choice. They want to give you a choice to buy a hundred dollar jump subprime policy. That’s not the answer. What people voted for was to fix the ACA, not repeal it.”

After his first comment, Cruz and Luce went back and forth. However, Cruz never addressed the question of mental health. Instead, he continued to talk about veterans’ choice and the faults of mandating coverage.

“Basically, what I think he said was that if you want mental health coverage, you have to buy an additional policy, which how many people can do that if they’re struggling for healthcare,” Hook said.”What they’re proposing right now is that mental health care would be an opt out, so people could choose to opt out. He was talking about the stuff not being covered, and mental health is not stuff. It is a vital part of your healthcare. It affects everything, so I don’t know what he was talking about.“

As of right now, the GOP bill known as the American Health Care Act takes away funding from programs such as the Prevention and Public Health Fund, allows only so much Medicaid funding to go to one person, and no longer mandates certain coverages for each person (like maternity coverage). They aim to lower average family premiums and reduce government involvement in health care. Cruz supporters felt like the overall outcome of the event helped summarize these goals.

“I thought he did a very good, detailed job in describing the different details in the bills he’s wanting,” 52 year-old Kat Fox said. “I thought it was excellent, even though not everyone agreed with it. Because, you can’t just mandate everything because it doesn’t fit everybody. Someone might not need maternal care. Someone else does. So why should you require to carry that? It makes sense.”