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PA Senator Defends ACA Replacement In Town Hall

Watched by police, demonstrators against the Senate Republican health care bill await the arrival of Pennsylvania's U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey outside the studios of WHTM-TV, Wednesday, July 5, 2017 in Harrisburg, Pa. Toomey took questions in front of a live audience in public for the first time this year. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

HARRISBURG (WSKG) -- US Senator Pat Toomey's live TV town hall got off to a raucous start Wednesday, with advocacy groups from across the state turning out to a Harrisburg TV studio to criticize the Republican for his support of the Senate GOP's Affordable Care Act replacement bill. 

Inside the studio, Toomey spent much of the hour-long event defending the bill, which he helped author.

One of the biggest changes enacted under the Better Care Reconciliation Act would be states shouldering a greater burden of Medicaid costs--particularly for people who have been getting coverage under President Obama's Affordable Care Act expansion.

A number of governors from both parties--including Pennsylvania's Tom Wolf, a Democrat--have come out against the plan for that reason: they say states can't shoulder the cost.

Toomey's response? Neither can the federal government.

"The federal government is broker than the state," he said. "I'll tell you...I think it makes sense for this to be a shared responsibility."

That's in line with what Toomey has said since the plan was announced--Obamacare is unsustainable.

The senator also had harsh words for the Congressional Budget Office, an officially nonpartisan agency that evaluates the economic impact of federal legislation.

It has said the GOP's Better Care Reconciliation Act would, among other things, insure 22 million fewer people over the next decade.  But Toomey questioned those numbers.

"The person who is responsible for doing the scoring at CBO is a former Hillary Clinton staffer who was very involved in designing Hillary Care," he said. "I just think she makes assumptions and she has a bias that is not the same as the one I would make."

That person, Holly Harvey, is a health analyst who worked under President Bill Clinton's administration. She was not a political appointee.

Outside, the activists appeared unsatisfied.

Many were from ADAPT, a group that advocates for the disabled. Members--like Brandon Ezekiel, who is in a wheelchair--said the GOP plan's spending caps mean Medicaid funding won't keep pace with demand, leading to service cuts.

"If he takes away Medicaid, we're going back in a nursing home," Ezekiel said. "That's just like a jail cell. You might as well say you're done."

Ezekiel, and several other ADAPT members, were rolled off the TV studio premises and given citations by police for blocking the doors with their wheelchairs.