Iowans question Sen. Joni Ernst on if she supports GOP health care bill, budget proposal

People in the audience held up green signs to show if they agreed with Sen. Ernst, and red signs to show if she disagreed. (Photo: Steffi Lee)

Republican Senator Joni Ernst says she and a number of her colleagues remain "legitimately undecided" on the GOP's plans to change the Affordable Care Act.

"What we will be looking at and what I will support in the bill, when it comes to the Senate, there are a number of things I do support and one thing I've heard predominantly from Iowans is making sure that preexisting conditions are covered in the AHCA -- I also support keeping children on their parents' policies until the age of 27," Ernst said in response to a question about the ACA during her Des Moines town hall.

The contentious town hall took place in the Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University. She was pressed on a range of issues -- from women's reproductive health services, to Congressman Steve King's controversial tweet and to President Donald Trump's taxes.

Ernst drew a lot of booing from the crowd when she said she wouldn't support Planned Parenthood.

"We know that the money is fungible," she said. "Number one, Planned Parenthood is not the predominant agency that provides women's healthcare services."

That response drew additional booing from the audience.

"What I have proposed is that the federal funds go to those federally qualified healthcare centers that do not provide abortions," she said. "Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of abortions across the United States."

But Ernst said she does support having access to birth control over the counter.

Speaking with reporters, Ernst reiterated that she isn't sure of the GOP health care bill and is waiting to see it in its final form in the Senate.

"We're focusing on the people that truly need the assistance," she said. "How that will translate to the final version of the bill -- again, I'm going to have to sort through it. I can't tell you whether I'm going to support it or not support it today because I just don't know what the final bill is going to look at."

Ernst did show some support for keeping the Medicaid expansion under the current law.

"We do know that there are 150,000 Iowans that went through Medicaid expansion," she said. "These are those folks that might be working jobs, that they just quite can't make ends meet and purchase insurance on their own so they've been absorbed into that Medicaid system. So we want to weigh that moving forward and we want to make sure it's going to work for hardworking Iowans."

Ernst told her audience the nation does need to balance its budget, however several Iowans asking her questions today said they were worried it would impact what Iowans depend on.

"What can you tell me that would help me think that kids aren't going to start missing out on breakfast and lunch at school?" one woman asked.

Ernst said moving forward, a top priority of hers is to ensure rural Iowa and Iowans in need aren't negatively hurt.

"One of the priorities that I have in my office is working on rural poverty," she said.

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