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Sen. Charles Grassley

Sen. Charles Grassley speaks Feb. 23 at a town hall meeting in Charles City.

Lawmakers across the nation have been holding town hall meetings in recent weeks as the Republican majority in Congress works to implement the agenda that it promised to America.

The initial effort has focused on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which has raised concerns for millions of people who either purchase their health insurance through an exchange or were able to get health care through the expanded Medicaid program.

The decision to repeal and replace Obamacare has riveted the nation, hardly a surprise since affordable and accessible health care is a life-and-death issue. Lawmakers who held town hall meetings have provided a valuable service to their constituents by listening and responding to those concerns and then hopefully taking that information back to Washington as part of an effort to produce legislation that will benefit the people back home.

So far, however, South Dakota residents have had at best limited opportunities to share their views on health care reform with their lawmakers. When asked this week by the Journal editorial board if any town hall meetings will be held while the legislation is being crafted, the offices of Rep. Kristi Noem, Sen. John Thune and Sen. Mike Rounds said none are scheduled at this time.

Noem's chief of staff said she held a town hall meeting earlier this year in Watertown, which is near her hometown of Castlewood in northeastern South Dakota, and "holds regular telephone town halls." He also said she did not have time for a town hall meeting last week while the House was in recess. Yet, Noem, who is running for governor in the 2018 election, was in Sioux Falls on Thursday getting a tour of the Minnehaha County Jail and talked about cracking down on crime in South Dakota. She also was in Rapid City on Saturday to give the commencement address for Western Dakota Tech at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

A Thune staffer said that he held a town hall meeting in Aberdeen "a few weeks ago and an open forum in Madison."

Sen. Rounds' office said he has held many "coffee and conversation" events this year and that more than 30 health care organizations met with him in his office to discuss health care reform. He also has held a conference call with other health care stakeholders.

We, however, would like our lawmakers to hold town hall meetings focused exclusively on health care for the less prominent stakeholders — the citizens who don't have the time or resources to fly to Washington, D.C., or want more than a cup of coffee with the senator.

While we have heard plenty about what they believe are the problems with Obamacare, we have heard little about their vision for health care reform beyond removing mandates and allowing people to shop across state lines for insurance.

We need to know how the Republican plan will reduce insurance rates without reducing health care costs. Where do they stand on pre-existing conditions? Do they support caps on coverage? What happens when an uninsured adult gets injured in an accident or is diagnosed with cancer? Who decides that person's fate — the federal government, the states or the insurance companies?

Our lawmakers need to listen to constituents' concerns and tell us specifically what kind of health care they support. Now is the time for them to listen to us and answer our questions.

This editorial appeared in the May 15 edition of the Rapid City (South Dakota) Journal, another Lee Enterprises publication.


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