Scheduling change causes Senator Gardner to miss ‘welcoming party’ in Steamboat

Senator Gardner tours the Western Slope U.S. Senator Corey Gardner's tour of Colorado's Western Slope this week included touring a diary farm in Loma and the Peach Shack in Palisade. He visited Dinosaur National Monument July 6 to discuss U.S. national park policies, and he met with physicians at Pioneers Medical Center in Meeker to discuss the challenges rural hospitals are facing under the Affordable Care Act. During a stop in Moffat County, he visited the Knott Ranch to discuss the opportunities that conservation easements offer.

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner was in Steamboat Springs July 7 in the midst of a tour of the Western Slope, but he missed out on a private lunch with the Routt County Republicans at Carl’s Tavern, and he also missed the “welcoming party” that awaited him outside the restaurant.

About 100 people gathered on Yampa Street for a rally billed on social media as a “Peaceful Everyone’s Vote Counts Protest” and waved signs that read “Save the Affordable Care Act” and “Repair, Don’t Replace.”

Steamboat Today asked several members of the Routt County Republicans on their way into the restaurant if there was a specific message or issue they wanted to address with the senator but the newspaper received mostly noncommittal responses.

Longtime local Republican activist Geneva Taylor and Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski both replied, “He’s not coming,” when asked about the senator’s attendance. And later, Gardner’s press secretary Casey (Gardner) Contres confirmed a change of plans.

“Senator Gardner has had to reschedule (the lunch meeting) in order to accommodate a necessary healthcare meeting,” Contres said via e-mail.

In the meantime, Gardner’s constituents were also discussing health care in downtown Steamboat. And one of the most poignant stories shared by the protesters was that of Steamboat resident Todd Danielson, who said he doesn’t know how he would have managed his life in the first half of 2017 without the healthcare coverage he was able secure under the Affordable Care Act.

“The best case scenario would have been, ‘I’m still alive, but I’m bankrupt,’” Danielson said.

Danielson, 44, and the father of two young daughters, explained that in late January of this year he suffered a seizure and was taken by ambulance to Yampa Valley Medical Center and later transferred to CU Anschutz Medical Campus where he successfully underwent surgery for a brain tumor and ultimately underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Danielson, a contractor for a digital media company specializing in science and technology issues, said he still faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, but without his insurance under the ACA, he would have been wiped out.

Senator Gardner draws a crowd in Steamboat Springs (photo gallery)

Many of the protesters were irritated that Gardner was meeting with the Routt County Republicans and not hosting a public forum for all of his constituents.

Past chairman of the Routt County Republicans Chuck McConnell said the luncheon meeting was planned so that local Republicans could engage the senator.

“He wants feedback from the people who got him elected and from everyone in our community,” McConnell said, adding that he’s confident the senator will return to meet with constituents in an open forum.

Steamboat business owner Ken Kruse said Coloradans’ representatives are not adequately representing them, especially when it comes to healthcare.

“Nobody is getting out of here alive,” Kruse said. “We’ll all need Medicaid at the end of life and living in nursing homes.”

Steamboat Springs attorney Sally Claassen was holding up a placard emblazoned with a red heart and the wording, “Where’s your heart? Koch Brothers or your constituents?”

Yampa Valley Medical Center outreach specialist Lindsey Reznicek said hospital CEO Frank May and several others spoke to Gardner Friday morning about the importance of maintaining, “an appropriate level of coverage for the Medicaid and commercially-insured populations, as well as providing adequate reimbursement for the care that hospitals and clinics provide.”

“It is essential no one lose their current health care benefits, and the hope is that lawmakers will commit to providing adequate Medicaid funding into the distant future,” Reznicek said in the email.

The statement from the hospital went on to say: “Provision to access care at a reasonable rate of reimbursement is essential in ensuring all patients receive the care they deserve. Our state’s expansion of Medicaid has enabled more than 500,000 uninsured Coloradans, including a substantial number of people in our local communities, to become eligible for health care coverage through Medicaid.”

Elk River rancher Molly (Fetcher) Lotz shared a charming personal story about the one date she had in college with the future Senator Gardner.

“I was a sophomore at CSU,” she recalled, and he asked me “to a fraternity formal in Breckenridge. He was a perfect gentleman throughout.”

Lotz said Friday she recently left the senator a voicemail reminding him of the date they once shared.

“You were a gentleman then, so I have faith you’re still a perfect gentleman and you won’t undo the Affordable Care Act,” Lotz said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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