Rep. Angie Craig, who represents Minnesota’s Second Congressional District, held a roundtable discussion in the Belle Plaine School District office on Friday, Jan. 31.

Craig convened alongside experts and constituents who included Jeremy Drucker of Protect Our Care; Deborah Mills, the Goodhue County Farmers Union President; Sam Smith, a legislative liaison for NAMI-MN (National Alliance on Mental Illness); Connie and Gary Johnson, volunteers with NAMI; Wendy Jones, executive director of Minnesota Recovery Connection; Steve, Isaiah and Stacy Lufkin, who have a close connection with the ALS illness, given that Steve is facing the illness; Jennifer Hjelle, the executive director of ALS Association-MN/ND/SD Chapter; Ryan Laager, superintendent of Belle Plaine Schools; and Kim DeWitte, principal of Chatfield Elementary School.

Laager stayed apolitical when he described school policy and action regarding mental health and concerns surrounding vaping to the gathered guests, but other topics discussed surrounded the cost and availability of health care and medical coverage in rural areas.

The conversation came a day after a measure from the Trump Administration which will allow states to scale back Medicaid spending by converting part of their federally allocated Medicaid funding into a block grant, a measure that conservative lawmakers have eyed for years.

Smith stated that he believes block grants pose a less-than-ideal scenario for many across the state, particularly those suffering from mental illness.

“From the medical community, block granting would be devastating,” Smith said before pointing to high readmission rates for mental health hospitalizations.

Craig as well as a number of the roundtable attendees oppose the measure, stating it will open up the possibility for those most in need, including those with mental illness and/or problems with substance abuse, to be left without coverage or health care.

“I’m thankful for the constituents and community health advocates who joined me for an important discussion today about reducing health insurance premiums and out of pocket health care costs,” Craig said per a release. “The number one issue I hear about from Minnesota families is the rising cost of health care. Since my first day in office, I’ve been working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on real solutions, like my federal reinsurance bill and my emergency insulin legislation as first steps, and I will not stop working until those bills become law and families see relief to the most urgent problems they are facing today. ”

Proponents for the new block grant program have argued that  the plan will allow states to offer patients more benefits while controlling government spending. Under the new model, states would not be required to opt in, and states interested in opting in would be required to seek authority from the federal government, making it less sweeping than Republican efforts in 2017 that were included in the attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Craig conceded that the Affordable Care Act was not perfect, pointing to multiple pieces of legislation currently being worked through in Congress to address its flaws, but voiced serious concern over Trump’s block grant program.

“This is just a way to kick people, millions of people out of the health care system in order to save money,” Craig told the Herald after Friday’s event. “The reason the administration wants to attack things like  Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is because they put in place in 2017 a tax cut for huge corporations...”

During the roundtable, Mills touched on what she described as prohibitively high health insurance costs for independent dairy farmers, noting that many farm families she knows pay well over $20,000 a year for insurance before setting foot in a doctor’s office.

With Belle Plaine having handily voted against Craig in the 2018 election, the Congresswoman faces the task of pushing favorable legislation for her constituents while confronting the major challenge of gaining their support. When it comes to agriculture-focused policy, Craig says she takes it case-by-case when considering actions coming from the White House. In the case of the administration’s block grant program, Craig finds little that would benefit independent farmers.

“If the president and the administration do something and it’s good for Minnesota and good for our district, I support it. You’ve seen me do that with a bunch of agricultural issues,” Craig said, pointing to her support of year-round sales of E-15. “But if the president proposes something that isn’t good for our community, then I have a responsibility for us to stand up to it as well. That’s my rule with the administration and frankly, that’s my rule for Democrats as well...”

Last Friday, Jan. 31, House Democrats announced they will vote on a resolution to disapprove the Trump administration’s Medicaid block grant program. The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel reported that the vote is likely to take place on Thursday, Feb. 6.

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