America's opiate addiciton crisis...the North Korean nuclear threat...the National Flood Insurance Program...all figured in Wednesday's "Ask The Congressman" on WOBM-AM. But critics of Republican plans to repeal and replace Obamacare steered much of the dialogue with Representative Tom MacArthur (R-3).

AHCA protest at Townsquare Media NJ (Tom Mongelli, Townsquare Media)
AHCA protest at Townsquare Media NJ (Tom Mongelli, Townsquare Media)

Outside Townsquare Media's Toms River headquarters, about 30 demonstrators, some from as far off as western Burlington County, chanted "People, Not Politics," and similar slogans aimed at changing MacArthur's views. In the studio, the Congressman and the callers gamely strove to keep the dialogue civil, with varying degrees of success.

The first caller of the evening, Jeff, a proponent of a government-financed single-payer coverage system, said that he was "outraged that we want to fund health care through for-profit-based insurance companies," calling it "immoral," and challenged MacArthur to "get off the script."

The Republican questioned, rhetorically, how long many single-payer supporters had stood behind the concept, noting its historical lack of success in gaining traction in the US, due to the onerous costs to government, and ultimately, to taxpayers.

Representative Tom MacArthur (Townsquare Media)
Representative Tom MacArthur (Townsquare Media)

"What you're talking about will break the country's economic back," MacArthur responded, likening it to socialism. "It's a bad idea. There's no competition. The government will decide everything. You'll have bureaucrats to go to, to find out if you can have hip surgery or knee surgery, or if you can get care for your wife who is sick or your children who are sick."

But callers with other concerns squeezed into the line as well. Rich, a veteran from Brick Township, bemoaned the chronic lack of extensive Veterans' Administration-authorized medical care in Ocean County, home to more veterans than any other county in New Jersey.

Brick's VA Clinic, he said forces "many disabled park in the woods nearby, just to get inside to get an appointment," adding that he and other hobbled vets "have to...get on shuttles to go to East Orange to get a doctor's appointment." The nearest full VA medical centers are in East Orange and Philadelphia.

Acknowledging the problem, and the recalcitrance of the VA to build more facilities, MacArthur recounted an agreement that emerged several months ago, involving the VA, Defense Department, and an assortment of hospitals, with the aim of letting veterans receive routine care at medical centers and doctors near them.

Rich's espousal of medical marijuana as a palliative, and as an alternative to opiates, runs at cross-purposes with its scant availability to veterans. MacArthur took a more guarded tone.

"I am open to the use of medical marijuana," he said, "If it can be properly managed by the state, then there should be an opportunity for people to get the treatment they need."

Next week at the Pemberton VFW, MacArthur unveils a measure to extend disabiity compensation for exposure to Agent Orange and related herbicides for veterans who served in the Korean DMZ (demilitarized zone). Currently, those who served betweene April 1, 1968, to August 3, 1971 are eligible. His bill would revise the start date to September 1, 1967.

MacArthur also addressed the midweek saber-rattling between the US and North Korea, explaining that the Asian nation's ongoing missile tests are in development of a delivery system that can carry a nuclear warhead, and how far it can travel, ostensibly to America.

Admitting that no answer is easy, and that military action would likely place Japan and other US allies in direct danger of countless conventional missiles, he advocated negotiation as a first resort, but with only one result: "What, to me, is not an option, is North Korea having an intercontinental ballistic missile, with a nuclear bomb."

MacArthur also recounted his inspection of preparations and conversion of space at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to accomodate the KC46A refueling crafts, the firstof which are due in October, 2020; and assessed the state of the National Flood Insurance Program reauthorization bill, headed for a vote in September.

His objectives for the revised NFIP included "more money for reconstruction...we doubled the coverage for that. I wanted to make sure premiums remained affordable for people, and I wanted to make sure that new construciton didn't get frozen out." They are among "six or seven" points in the package that MacArthur said he succeeded in improving.

The full program appears below.

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