LOUDONVILLE — The constituents of Representative Bob Gibbs (R) gathered in a crowded room in the basement of the Loudonville Public Library on Saturday for a meeting organized by Robert A. Oden Jr. Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski to voice their concerns to the congressman. Gibbs represents Ohio’s Seventh District, which includes Knox County.
Greta Monter, a Holmes County resident, told Gibbs that she was worried about congress moving to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Her husband and two daughters rely on the ACA for coverage. Emma Monter and her father were diagnosed with a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow in various parts of their bodies — Emma has one in her brain. Katy, Greta’s other daughter, was diagnosed with lupus at the age of six.
Provisions in the ACA prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions, protecting Emma and Mike Monter. Katy is guaranteed coverage because she can remain on her parents’ plan until she is 26 years old. But if the ACA is repealed by the new Congress, the Monters’ health insurance could be put at risk.
“I came here today as your constituent,” Greta Monter told the congressman, fighting back tears. “But mostly I came as a mother and a representative of a million other mothers who have been holding our breaths since Nov. 9, in fear that our sons and daughters will be losing their health care.”
About 50 members of “GibbsWatch” — a Facebook group of residents from Gambier, Mount Vernon and surrounding areas who follow Rep. Gibb’s political activity — attended the constituent meeting on Saturday, which covered issues ranging from healthcare to the environment. The often-contentious and emotional nature of the exchanges illustrated just how uncertain people are with this Congress’s brash new outlook on the role of government in domestic policy, and further revealed the deep divide that separates the Republican and Democratic parties.
Monter and other members were mainly concerned about whether or not Congress would throw out the individual mandate in the ACA, which requires citizens without health insurance to pay a tax penalty. Monter believes this policy plays a crucial role in making sure insurance companies don’t deny patients with pre-existing conditions. Gibbs told the attendees that he did not support insurance companies that denied these people coverage, but did not agree with the individual mandate because taxpayers would have to subsidize it.
“Well, the individual mandate is going to go away; we’re not going to do the individual mandate,” Gibbs said. The congressman double-downed on his belief that the ACA was a “mess,” citing a spike in premiums and a lack of competition in the market.
“I don’t want my family to be thrown high risk pools and be cast aside,” Monter shot back. “And that’s what’s going to happen!”
After about 30 minutes of back-and-forth arguments on the ACA, Slonczewski and Kenyon students Marie Baldassarre ’17 and Schuyler Stupica ’19 steered the conversation toward the environment. Baldassarre questioned the congressman on his support for oil companies and companies that use hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to mine for natural gas, while Stupica asked if he would act to protect the environment against the effects of climate change.
Gibbs defended his position on fracking by saying that there has not been one instance where oil and fracking have directly contaminated ground aquifers, although he acknowledged that the drilling runoffs have contaminated water supplies in the past. As for climate change, Gibbs told the group that he did not believe there is a scientific consensus on whether or not humans affect the climate, which caused an uproar among the attendees. There is a 97 percent consensus among scientists that climate change is likely caused by human activity, according to NASA and the American Meteorological Society.
At the end of the meeting, tensions were still high, but the attendees thanked Gibbs for talking to them. Not all were satisfied — before the meeting began, Susan Watson of Killbuck, Ohio, voiced her fear of the current administration, and many members, grumbling amongst themselves as they left the crowded basement, seemed to be feeling the same way.
“It’s a nightmare,” Watson said. “I just want to wake up from this nightmare.”
In an email to the attendees after the meeting, Slonzcewski urged the group to write to Gibbs and emphasize their concerns.