ELIZABETHTOWN — A litany of topics were discussed Thursday when Congressman Robert Pittenger held a town hall meeting at the Cape Fear Farmer’s Market in downtown Elizabethtown.
About 25 people attended the gathering, which was Pittenger’s eighth town hall meeting of the nine scheduled in his 9th District.
Perhaps getting the most attention was the topic of opioids, and Pittenger heard from both sides of the issue — from those who are concerned about the abuse of pain killers across the country, but also from a disabled veteran who said many like him have been taking opioids for a long time to manage constant pain and will need them for the rest of their lives.
“It’s a difficult subject we’re all trying to get a handle on — for both sides,” Pittenger said. “We’ve passed a bill for substantially more fund8ing to help with opioid care, as well as mental health assistance — but we’re not a management organization. All we can do is help with funding to bring more support.”
One man in the audience said he lost his son in February to opioid abuse, primarily because there is no help available locally without a three- to five-day wait.
“When a person wants help, they need to be able to get it right then,” the man said. “You can’t wait three, four or five days.”
The Affordable Care Act — better known as Obamacare — also drew plenty of attention. Pittenger said premiums in North Carolina have risen 173 percent because of Obamacare.
“Obamacare probably made sense in 2009 when it was passed,” Pittenger said. “But it was never set up on a basis that was sound.
“We need market-driven health care,” he added. “Competition is the major component to drive prices down. And its not about Democrats and Republicans — it’s about affordable health care for the American people.”
Also on the subject of health care, the issue of billing for services was brought up, and Pittenger said there is concern about that in Washington.
“Some health care providers know how to exploit the system,” he said. “We had a dentist in Charlotte who billed Medicaid for $75,000 in one day — it was a very good day, but he never did the work.”
On a couple of occasions, the question about gridlock in Congress was brought up, and the congressman said, to a large degree, that image is being driving by the media.
“Keep in mind that controversial news always gets the headlines,” he said. “But there are many bills and initiatives worked on together, across the aisle, than you ever hear about. I work with Democrats all the time on national security issues, but you don’t hear much about that.
“There are people trying to find common ground and those of us who are looking to work across party lines,” he said. “The challenge is that we all come from different constituent groups — and we have some in Washington who want to have things their way all the time. That won’t work.”
With Hurricane Matthew still somewhat fresh in the minds of Bladen County residents, along with the recent events in Texas, concerns about rumors of FEMA money being cut or frozen were voiced. But Pittenger said there is absolutely no truth to that.
“We still have needs from Matthew and now there are needs from Harvey — and we are still helping with the needs after Katrina,” he said. “But FEMA money is constantly being shifted due to the most critical need at the time.”
Pittenger then took a moment to give a small commercial about his staff.
“We have a great constituency staff,” he said. “They aren’t campaign staff, they work for you, so don’t hesitate to contact them with any concerns.”
Some of the other issues discussed included national security, job creation, economic development, financial reform and tax code reform, which Pittenger said is an absolute must for Congress to handle quickly.
“There are 70,000 pages in the tax code now,” he said. “That’s nonsense; it’s not right.”
Pittenger’s staff is available at Elizabethtown Town Hall (805 W. Broad St.) on the first and third Tuesday of each month from 1:30 through 4:30 p.m. Staff is available to assist with issues involving Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans benefits, IRS, passports, USDA, FEMA, and most other federal agencies.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.