Groups: Health care played key role in deciding close CD3 race between MacArthur and Kim by David Levinsky, Burlington County Times
Kim, who was declared the winner last week while provisional ballots were still being counted, beat the incumbent by a less than 2 percent margin. But Ann Vardeman and other advocates believe his fate was sealed last year when he wrote an amendment to the GOP’s health care bill that garnered the measure enough conservative and moderate support to advance from the House.
Democrat Andy Kim made history during this year’s election when he bested incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur to become only the second Democrat in the last century to win the 3rd Congressional District’s House seat.
But Kim had plenty of help from advocacy groups such as New Jersey Citizen Action and unions like the Communication Workers of America and SEIU 1199 that opposed the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act before mobilizing to oust MacArthur, who garnered national attention for his role in rescuing the legislation from an early death.
“We all fought to save the Affordable Care Act and then we worked to turn that fight into an election issue,” said Ann Vardeman, program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, during a Monday conference call with New Jersey reporters where she touted the independent campaign the groups raged against MacArthur and the important role that the health care issue played in the closely watched race.
Kim, who was declared the winner last week while provisional ballots were still being counted, beat the incumbent by a less than 2 percent margin. But Vardeman and other advocates believe his fate was sealed last year when he wrote an amendment to the GOP’s health care bill that garnered the measure enough conservative and moderate support to advance from the House.
While the amendment mandated that insurers would not be permitted to refuse covering someone with preexisting conditions like diabetes, cancer or heart disease, it would allow states to waive the “Obamacare” restriction against pricing those consumers differently if they failed to maintain continuous coverage, defined as a lapse of 63 days or more in a year.
Opponents called it an attack on protections for people with preexisting conditions, and it would become the centerpiece of the campaigns against MacArthur’s re-election but also Democrat campaigns across the nation.
Even former President Barack Obama himself referenced the issue on the campaign trail this fall.
″(President Donald Trump) says, ‘I’m going to protect your preexisting conditions,’ while his Justice Department is in court right now trying to strike down those protections. That is not spin, that’s not exaggeration, that’s not trying to put a — a positive glow on things, that’s lying,” Obama said during a late October campaign speech in Milwaukee.
Vardeman said MacArthur’s amendment saved the Republican bill and created a voting record on the issue. Even after the bill itself was defeated in the U.S. Senate, the issue would remain front and center with voters and the key to defeating MacArthur and flipping the House to the Democrats.
“If they never actually voted on health care, I think the conversation would have been different. It would have still been about saving the ACA, but (because of the MacArthur Amendment) there was a vote and people had a record,” she said. “The bill was dead and nobody was on record, but Tom MacArthur resurrected it.”
Laura Packard, co-chair of the health care activist group Health Care Voter, agreed that health care was the issue that mattered most for voters.
“The reason (Nevada) Sen. (Dean) Heller will not be a senator next year is due to his waffling on health care,” Packard said.
Union leaders Milly Silva, of SEIU, and Seth Hahn, of CWA, said their members are often on the front lines of the health care and helped rally to defeat MacArthur this past fall.
“They were outraged Tom MacArthur took extraordinary steps to attack health care,” Hahn said.
New Jersey Citizen Action helped organize weekly demonstrations outside of MacArthur’s constituent services offices in Evesham and Toms River and also helped formed coalitions with other groups, including Action Together Burlington County, New Jersey Organizing Project, as well as the NAACP, CWA and SEIU 1199.
The groups canvassed voters and built a campaign centered on MacArthur’s record on health care and the GOP tax overhaul. New Jersey Citizen Action also formed a nonprofit, New Jersey for a Better Future, to advertise against the incumbent on both television and digital web ads.
In a memo released to the news media, the group said its television ads reached more than 170,000 viewers and that its Facebook ads had more than 6 million impressions and its videos had more than 2.3 million views.
The group did not immediately release a dollar amount for its spending on advertising. In the spring when the group was formed, its leaders promised to spend “seven figures” on a campaign “exposing MacArthur’s record of voting against health care and his support of the Trump Tax.”
Outside group spending would wind up being a key factor in the razor-close race. More than $11 million was spent in the district by outside groups, surpassing the $8 million in combined spending by both candidates, according to ProPublica campaign finance tracking.
With the election over and MacArthur unseated, Vardeman promised that the group’s activism on health care would not end.
Four weeks remain in this year’s open enrollment period and New Jersey Citizen Action and other groups plan to continue encouraging residents to sign up to purchase coverage through the federal exchange.
“It’s extraordinarily important that people sign up,” she said.
Vardeman said her group would also press the new Congress to approve legislation to help stabilize the Affordable Care Act and reverse some of the Trump administration’s actions that she believes sabotage the law. She cited a bill penned by longtime New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6th of Long Branch, that would expand the law’s federal subsidies so more people can afford coverage and boost cost-sharing reduction subsidies that help reduce out-of-pocket costs, such as co-pays and deductibles, for lower-income consumers.
“We focused for so long on saving ACA, we really should focus now on how we can improve it and lower costs,” she said.
News 12 New Jersey - KIYC: Sandy victims still waiting for 'clawback' resolutions
CHADWICK BEACH -Six years after Superstorm Sandy, hundreds of New Jersey families are still waiting for some sort of resolution to the "clawbacks" which have them owing tens of thousands of dollars in grant money back to the government.
Maryann Ryan used $100,000 in grant money to rebuild her two bedroom bungalow in Chadwick Beach, which was damaged during Sandy. But the state now says it overpaid her by about $38,000 and it wants that money back.
"I would have to pay $1,000 a month until the $38,000 was paid up," Ryan says. "Now, I am a woman of certain income and a thousand a month is ridiculous. They thought it was such a great deal because there was no interest. Well, whoop-de-doo."
Ryan is appealing, with the assistance of the New Jersey Organizing Project. The group says homeowners across the Jersey Shore are desperate for some sort of clarity from the Murphy administration on how clawbacks will be handled.
"We have folks who have money due in the summer, you know, $25-30-35,000, and they don't have it," says NJOP Executive Director Amanda Devecka Rinear.
Ryan isn't alone. Fred and Marjorie Schaffer, of Little Egg Harbor, replaced their home with the help of grant money, but were told they owe nearly $70,000 in grant money. The Schaffers also took out a Small Business Administration Loan which, they found out later, is considered a "duplication of benefits" under FEMA rules. Pat Weber, of Union Beach, faces a similar clawback because she received $30,000 in supplemental flood insurance.
New Jersey has $1.2 billion in unspent federal Sandy funds, and the NJOP has been lobbying the Murphy administration to use some of it to help clawback victims, as well as homeowners who lack the funding to complete construction so they can return home. The clawbacks may prove to be more challenging, since both the funding and the clawback rules come from FEMA.
"These are people who put everything in rebuilding and holding on, people on fixed incomes, people with 2-3 jobs, we have to do something," Devecka-Rinear says.
We're South Jersey and the Shore standing together for community solutions.