PONCE DE LEON - 1st Congressional Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz hosted a town hall meeting last Wednesday as part of "Open Gaetz Day" in Holmes County.
Chief on the minds of local residents was healthcare, with rising insurance premiums and penalty provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who don't have health insurance topping the list of concerns.
"Why are rates are so high, and how can insurance companies charge so much for services," asked one resident.
Gaetz responded that many providers are taking advantage of less competition.
“By (ACA) limiting choices of insurance companies and making them the only game in town, those companies have the ability to raise the costs whenever they want," he said.
Others in attendance pointed to rising prescription drug prices as making some individuals no longer afford to their medicine.
“I have a problem with pharmaceutical companies that continue to raise their rates then turn around and spend billions on advertising those same drugs,” said Gaetz. “Maybe we shouldn’t have these companies having their rates this high if we allow this much advertising.”
With both proponents of the ACA - also known as Obamacare - and those who would like to see ACA repealed in attendance, Gaetz made his stance on the issue clear:
“I voted to repeal Obamacare because I believe that a program that is so fundamentally flawed, even with tweaks made to it, it cannot be made better,” he said.
The congressman also took time earlier in the day to meet with first responders, stating he would like to pursue securing Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants, which could provide resources to hire more law enforcement staff, develop and test innovative policing strategies, and provide training and technical assistance through the U.S. Department of Justice.
Gaetz also held a round table discussion with Ponce de Leon Mayor Ron Farrington and members of Ponce de Leon Town Council in which officials conveyed their concerns and discussed possible solutions. Council members expressed their frustration with the ongoing local option gas tax tug of war between Holmes County and its municipalities, citing a lack of action by the state to help resolve the issue.
Gaetz advised the council he would be set up a conference call between his office, State Representative Brad Drake’s office, Florida Department of Revenue and the town of Ponce de Leon to begin the process of finding a solution to the matter.
Gaetz said the insight he gained into local needs was invaluable.
“I would much rather be here in a small town learning from you what is needed than in Washington doing anything,” he said.
Florida's 1st congressional district includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton counties and part of Holmes County.