While Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler was prepared to answer questions on any topic during a “telephone town hall” Tuesday evening, the conversation steered toward what most people, including the Congresswoman, expected: health care.

The meeting, held via conference call, drew over 5,000 participants.

As Herrera Beutler started taking questions the tone was mostly cordial: many callers thanked her for her “no” vote last week on the American Health Care Act.

“I was really happy you voted no on the health care bill. Thank you very much for listening to us,” said Sarah Carter of Vancouver.

Carter then asked Herrera Beutler how Congress will push the cost of medical care down beyond driving down insurance premiums, including reducing the cost of prescription medications, doctors, specialists and preventative medicine.

“It frustrates me that our neighbors to the north in Canada pay less for the same medications that we pay,” Herrera Beutler said. While she said she had not signed on to any legislation that would bring prescription prices down, she mentioned that she was intrigued by legislation from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) that would require drug manufacturers to disclose and provide information about drug price increases.

Beutler also said that cost drivers within health care need to be addressed — but all of that starts with transparency.

“In Washington state, to have a run-of-the-mill healthy, live birth … it can cost, depending on where you are, $4000 or upwards $14,000 … and there’s no rhyme or reason for that,” she said. One of her solutions, she said, is making the cost of medical procedures through different providers available online.

“I think to try and sum it (up) is, it’s transparency, and reducing the players in the system,” she said.

Midway through the call, Herrera Beutler’s staffers conducted a survey by asking attendees to vote on what issues they believed Congress should consider most important. Callers could dial a corresponding number to vote on their selection.

The result: 41 percent thought healthcare was most important, 20 percent voted “other,” 16 percent voted “jobs,” 14 percent voted “terrorism and national security,” and 9 percent voted “taxes.”

Susan, a retired attorney and registered nurse from Onalaska asked Herrera Beutler why Congress wouldn’t “seriously consider universal health care plans,” and asked if Herrera Beutler herself would consider universal health care.

“I’ve had all these folks, very left-of-center, thanking me for my vote on the health care bill and I kind of have to laugh because I’m thinking ‘I don’t know if they’ll be happy with me in the long term,’” Herrera Beutler said.

She reaffirmed that she does not support universal, government-provided health care.

“I think everybody deserves access, and I think we can get there,” she said. “But my big issue with the universal system is that it can be limited when you desperately need care.”

The townhall wrapped up shortly after 7 p.m. Listeners who did not get a chance to ask a question of Herrera Beutler were invited to leave a voicemail at the representative’s Vancouver office by calling 360-695-6291.

Contact Daily News reporter Madelyn Reese at 360-577-2523

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