By Kimberlee Kruesi/ Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s U.S. Sen. Jim Risch said Thursday Congress needs to find a bipartisan solution to improving health care in the United States.
The Republican lawmaker spoke out on health care after a small group of activists surprised Risch at a small business forum co-sponsored by Facebook in Boise. Organizers argue they had no choice but to address Risch at a public event because he has evaded directly meeting with them for weeks.
Risch has not held a town hall since President Donald Trump was elected in November. Instead, Risch has typically preferred meeting via conference call with constituents. To date, the only Idaho congressional lawmaker to host a town hall recently is U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who is currently running for governor in 2018. Risch isn’t up for re-election until 2020.
While spread out in the audience on Thursday, organizers attempted to take turns pressing Risch about health care and questioning his voting record on the issue.
Amber Labelle of Garden City was the first to stand up to ask Risch — before the senator was finished speaking — about his efforts to reach out to various congressional members so that people like her can provide health care to their families. Labelle’s question was met with applause.
“I’m on the free-market side,” Risch said. “The other side is more government-oriented. That doesn’t mean there isn’t middle ground.”
Risch took two questions from the audience before event staffers cut the audience off, saying that the rest of the crowd wanted to learn more about business tools.
Risch later told reporters that health care is one of the most personal issues for people and Congress is actively working on a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. Risch has been a constant critic of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care overhaul law. However, Risch criticized Democratic congressional members for not working with Republicans in that effort.
Risch added that he believes Idaho’s health care insurance exchange was one of the best in the country, but only because state officials crafted it and not the federal government.
While Idaho’s exchange has been praised by Republican lawmakers, uncertainty from the federal government has caused health insurers to propose steep rate hikes for Idahoans who buy coverage on the exchange in 2018.
The state is currently negotiating with insurers on final rates.