Keith Ellison speaks to seniors at assisted living facility in Crystal

Congressman Keith Ellison speaks with a group of seniors during a luncheon at the Heathers Manor in Crystal. (Sun Post staff photos by Laci Gagliano)

Luncheon discussion included current health care issues

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Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison visited the Twin Cities July 6, including making a brief afternoon appearance at The Heathers Manor Senior Living Facility in Crystal. Ellison opened the floor for a town hall-style forum to allow residents attending a luncheon to discuss their concerns on the current proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid by House Republicans.

During an interview before the forum, Ellison said that while health care is the primary focus, he doesn’t have preconceived notions or assumptions about what the generation he’d be addressing will want to discuss.

“I’ve learned over the past 10 or 12 years, don’t think you know what seniors are going to talk about. They tend to be very independent-minded, they tend to know the news better than their younger counterparts, and they tend to vote far more often,” he said.

Ellison spoke for about 10 minutes and had one question from a participant, although he appeared to have support from the majority of the seniors attending the event. One resident told him afterward during a handshake, “If you weren’t doing a good job, they’d let you know.”

Ellison chatted and shook hands with every attendant of the luncheon after speaking for about ten minutes and opening the floor to questions and comments.

Ellison said he travels to senior centers and VFW halls regularly to ensure he can personally answer his constituents’ questions. He began discussing the basic elements of what many refer to as Obamacare, explaining that its full name, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, comes from its two primary functions, protecting those who are already insured through an employer, and setting up an affordable system of health care.

“It’s putting in a lot of extra money in the form of Medicaid to help people who couldn’t afford healthcare to be able to afford it. The truth is, this is economically wise, because if there is no help for people who don’t have health care, those people will end up in the emergency room, they will be sicker, and they will be more expensive to treat,” he said.

Ellison also explained the impacts of the Affordable Care Act on seniors. He described how it will gradually fill in the coverage gap known colloquially as a “donut hole,” which was part of the 2003 Medicare Part D enactment that reduced coverage for prescription medications after reaching a certain dollar amount of coverage.

“Folks who couldn’t afford their medications were having to cut bills, skip dates, rely on their families,” he said. “The best way to keep seniors healthy is to keep seniors healthy – that means keeping drugs affordable, and that also means free screenings.”

He spoke about the American Healthcare Act’s position to repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act, including cuts to Medicaid that would total $6 billion and revoke services like free screenings.

Ellison said that while he’s been working against the bill and opposes it overall, he can see good in the legislation, too.

“I’m not trying to swing you, I’m just trying to let you know what’s going on,” he said. “On the Social Security front, it’s been pretty flat. I believe it needs to be increased because more and more people are less and less able to save money for their retirement, because we’ve had flat wages for a long time. That’s one of the things we’ve been working on.”

He said the Affordable Care Act will also affect veterans. He described a plan his son, who is in the Army and uses a program called TriCare.

“Once you get out of the Army, unless you have a service-connected illness or injury, you’re in the health care situation like everybody else. I’ve been in touch with quite a few veteran service organizations who are quite concerned about this as well,” he said.

Ellison then opened the floor to people with questions or comments while his assistant, Mike Siebenaler, handed out business cards with contact information.

“The main point is, we’ve got to stay in touch so I can do a good job trying to represent you,” Ellison added.

One man asked Ellison when the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) would return to Social Security.

“They’ve had it for two years now where it’s flat. Everything is going up except for the gauge that the government uses, and we’re suffering,” he told the Congressman.

“Let me tell you – I agree with you,” Ellison replied. “We are writing letters to the Social Security

Administration and the Trump administration saying that COLA must go up, the COLA must match the cost that people are facing. But you know how politics works: we have to get a group of people to agree with us before we can get anything done. You can bet that I will be fighting to increase the COLA, but if you can write a letter, even a short one, saying COLA has to go up, that would help a little bit. Let’s work on this together.”

Ellison said the issue will come up in the fall legislative session, but encouraged the man to write a letter, even addressed to him, and said he would bring it to “the right people.”

Before departing, the Congressman reiterated the importance of constituents keeping in touch with their representatives to let them know their thoughts and discuss concerns, saying the door was open to a multitude of current issues, ranging from Russian election meddling to immigration concerns.