Local Congressman Slams Health-Care Law

Several Congressional representatives are gathering today on City Hall steps to celebrate the recent passage of health-care reform. One Democrat who isn’t joining them is Staten Island's Michael McMahon, who voted against the bill.

Yesterday, though he joined a different crowd.

McMahon worked the crowd at the Arochar Senior Center, where many people gave him an earful of worry about their Medicare plans. Will there be cutbacks? Will doctors still take their plans? McMahon told them cuts are coming, but he’s working to reduce overall costs without reducing the services seniors get.

"No matter what people say or no matter pressure they put on me," McMahon said, "I will stand up and fight for the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn, especially senior citizens."

At the Arochar Friendship Center on Staten Island, Michael McMahon meets seniors who share his opposition to the new health-care reform law. (Photo courtesy the office of Michael McMahon.)

McMahon’s audience was friendly to him and generally angry about Congress. Many said they were Republicans, but that he’s one Democrat they support, for his stand against health-care reform. Louis Martarano, a 77-year-old retired property manger, said he opposes expanding coverage for the uninsured. He says he got laid off several times, and he went around until he found someone who would hire him, doing whatever odd jobs he could to pay bills in the meantime.

"This will make a lot of people lazy, I believe," Martarano says. "Why find a job if I have free medical? Why should I work?"

Many people at the senior center agree. Gloria Maguire, 71, shares others’ concerns about Medicare cuts. But she’s a retired social worker and thinks expanding insurance coverage is a positive step. She says, "Everyone should have health care. I agree with that. How could you live without health care? People get sick. Children get sick. And elderly people get sick."

Having voted against health-care reform, McMahon wasn't in any position to tout how the new package might help seniors -– for instance, by lifting the cap on prescription drugs in the otherwise popular Medicare Part D plans. His message of standing tall against his own party resonated with 68-year-old Fran Mandato.

"I just hope what he’s doing will help us seniors," Mandato said. "I just lost my husband. We had a health plan. It’s gone up from $100 a month to $600, and it’ll be going up to $800. I can’t afford that."

Many in this largely Italian-American crowd share Mandato’s enthusiasm for their freshman Congressman. But elsewhere in the district, not everyone agrees. Outside a nearby supermarket, Harry Baquiri says he’s disappointed in McMahon, and glad more people will get access to health care.

"How many people are without insurance? Plenty. They go into hospitals, they lie in there like dogs," says Baquiri, an Albanian immigrant. "So, in my opinion this program is very good."

Republicans have vowed to punish Democrats at the polls in November. McMahon’s seat is far from safe, even with his vote against the health-care bill and a fourfold cash advantage over his rivals at the moment. The GOP held his seat for the 16 years before he won it in 2008.

Two Republicans so far are vying to compete against McMahon in November: Michael Allegretti is an environmental consultant, and Michael Grimm is a former FBI agent who’s now a small business owner.