Republican congressman sneaks away from constituents demanding health care answers

Zack Ford Editor, Think Progress LGBT

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) tweeted Friday that he was excited to return home to Colorado this weekend, but things didn’t go very well when he got there.

On Saturday, his open meeting to chat with constituents at the Aurora Central Library was overwhelmed by votersparticularly concerned about the fate of their health care if the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) is repealed — a plan Coffman supports — without a replacement put in place. Rather than meet with most of them or even address them, he left the event via a back door and escaped in a waiting vehicle.

Among those who never got the chance to speak with Coffman was Berthie Ruoff. She told 9news, “I am potentially going to lose my health insurance. I’ve had a preexisting condition. I’ve had breast cancer. What’s going to happen to me? My spouse who had health insurance passed away. What do I do? You know, what am I supposed to do?” One of the hallmarks of the ACA was its provision that insurance carriers could no longer deny coverage to applicants because of pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, and cancer — as many did prior to the law’s passage.

It’s not clear that Coffman would have had a satisfying answer for her. This week, he co-authored an op-ed in The Denver Post with his fellow Republican congressmen from Colorado defending their support for repealing the ACA. Addressing the argument that people could lose their coverage and not find new plans because of pre-existing conditions, the lawmakers promised a Republican plan that “envisions” expanding protections that existed before the ACA, such as privacy protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But such protections only help those who change but maintain insurance coverage, not those who lose it and have to start a new plan, meaning they would do nothing to help Ruoff or others like her if their coverage should end because of the law’s repeal.

Coffman’s event, his first since June, was supposed to run from 2 to 3:30 and allow for one-on-one conversations with constituents. Because of the turnout, he met with them four at a time, ultimately speaking with only about 70 people and leaving far more waiting. He also left before the event was even supposed to end, sneaking out around 3:24.

According to his chief of staff, Ben Stein, the event was not intended to be a town hall. “Unfortunately, we only reserved the room at the Aurora Central Library for 90 minutes, which is usually plenty of time to see everyone,” he said in a statement. “For those who were unable to see the Congressman today we apologize. These constituents are invited to attend upcoming meeting opportunities and we will block more time so that he can hear from more of his constituents.”

Coffman has issued no personal statement addressing his early departure or the health care concerns so many of his constituents were there to discuss with him. Despite vague assurances from many Republican members of Congress, no ACA replacement plans have yet been shared with the public even though repeal votes are already underway.


Despite the statement from Coffman’s office that he spoke with 70 people, Skhisov insists there’s no way that’s possible. “I was #41 on the list, and I was not even close to getting in,” he told ThinkProgress in an email. “Me and my wife estimate that he saw maybe 17–20 people.”

According to Skhisov, around 3:24, one of the constituents waiting by the door shouted that the next time the door opened, they were all planning to enter to confront Coffman. Assuming that warning was heard inside the room, he suspects that may have been what prompted Coffman to make his escape out the back.

Skhisov also believes that the room in which Coffman was holding the meetings was easily large enough to handle the capacity of people that instead spent the event standing in the hallway. They demanded a townhall format, but the congressman’s staff did not oblige.


Zack Ford is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, hailing from the small town of Newport, PA. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. A graduate of Ithaca College (B.M. Music Education) and Iowa State University (M.Ed. Higher Education), Zack is an accomplished pianist with a passion for social justice education. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

The Big Drip

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

A rash of water main breaks in West Berkeley, Calif., and neighboring cities last month flooded streets and left at least 300 residents without water. Routine pressure adjustments in response to water demand likely caused more than a dozen pipes, some made of clay and more than 100 years old, to rupture.

West Berkeley’s brittle mains are not unique. Decades of neglect left aging pipes susceptible to breaks in communities across the U.S., wasting two trillion gallons of treated water each year as these systems near collapse.

Comprehensive upgrades to the nation’s crumbling water systems would stanch the flow and ensure all Americans have reliable access to clean water.

Nationwide, water main breaks increased 27 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to a Utah State University study.  

These breaks not only lead to service disruptions  but also flood out roads, topple trees and cause illness when drinking water becomes contaminated with bacteria.

The American Water Works Association estimated it will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years to upgrade and expand water infrastructure.

Some local water utilities raised their rates to pay for system improvements, but that just hurts poor consumers who can’t pay the higher bills.

And while Congress allocates money for loans that utilities can use to fix portions of their deteriorating systems, that’s merely a drop in the bucket—a fraction of what agencies need for lasting improvements.

America can no longer afford a piecemeal approach to a systemic nationwide crisis. A major, sustained federal commitment to fixing aging pipes and treatment plants would create millions of construction-related jobs while ensuring all Americans have safe, affordable drinking water.

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