Congressional health care hearing in Gastonia sparks controversy

by: Ken Lemon Updated:

Loading

GASTONIA, N.C. - The first of four traveling Congressional hearings on health care was held in Gastonia Friday. The other three will be in Georgia, Arizona and Texas.

"I brought Congress to North Carolina to understand the real impact of Obamacare on real Americans," said Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from North Carolina. He is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Republican lawmakers on the committee said they chose North Carolina because it has seen a large insurance price increase.

Cost, accessibility and confusion were the main topics discussed at the hearing. Five people from the Charlotte area testified. All were leaders of a company, the president, owner, CEO or director. Two who spoke were from the insurance industry.

"We as businesses cannot operate on unknowns. We cannot plan or budget on what we do not know or do not understand," said Joel Long, the president of GSM Services, a local company.

"My monthly health insurance premium for 2013 is $395.60. Beginning in January 2014, my renewal rate will be $713.11," said Sherry Overbey, the director of the Belmont Crisis Pregnancy Center.

McHenry, Chairman Darrell Issa and Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican from North Carolina, said they will take what they heard back to Washington, D.C., so they can try to make changes to the law. Pittenger is not on the committee, but was invited to hearing because it was held in North Carolina.

There was not a focus Friday on what parts of the law are working. Channel 9 asked why.

"No one came forward on the Democratic side and proposed a witness," said Chairman Darrell Issa.

One voter stood up before the hearing started and expressed disappointment.

"It's taxpayer-funded and a one-sided hearing that doesn't represent your employers. We employee you," said Jennifer Moody, a member of Lincoln County Democratic Women.

McHenry told Channel 9 that in these hearings Republicans chose who they want to hear from and Democrats do the same.

He said he has heard from some of his constituents who say the law is working for them. But he says it's a small portion of those he has heard from.

Supporters of Affordable Care Act protest committee hearing

Protesters gathered outside the Gaston County courthouse to issue their response to the hearing.

Earlier Friday morning, they told Eyewitness News it's propaganda.

They said it's a hearing not to gauge public sentiment on the Affordable Care Act, but to destroy it.

The protestors wanted the committee members to hear their point of view, but said their requests to speak, were either denied or ignored.

They wanted to make sure their message was still heard outside the hearing.

The grouped mocked the hearing, calling it a sham.

"It's not even a fair hearing," said Jamar McKoy with the Gaston County Democratic Party. "Therefore it is a waste of taxpayers' dollars and our time."

"This is just a propaganda tool," said Garrick Brenner with Progress North Carolina.

The protesters said the ACA works for them and should not be attacked.

Dana Wilson of Gastonia said she has multiple sclerosis.

She wanted to tell the committee the new law ensures low prices.

Leslie Boyd wanted to tell them about her son who had chronic health problems.

"He died because he couldn't get health care," she said.

The crowd jeered when one of the committee members arrived.

About a dozen officers were there to make sure the protest stayed civil.

Health care opponent Todd Huffstetler watched in disgust.

"I don't agree with Obamacare," he said. "I don't agree with anything Barack Obama does."

Congressman Robert Pittenger called the ACA a failure.

"There was a promise made that wasn't kept and now the American people are paying for it," Pittenger said.

Protestors admit there were problems with the Healthcare.gov website, but they say the law works and abandoning it would leave people without the care they need.

To see more local news stories, click here.