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Gillibrand, at Town Hall, voices support for Medicare for All, $15 wage, medical marijuana

The state's junior senator Thursday assured listeners in Western New York she will keep on fighting for improved access to affordable health care -- and a $15-an-hour minimum wage on the national level.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand offered those views at a Town Hall gathering in Rockwell Hall on the campus of Buffalo State College that attracted some 600 people.

Gillibrand said the session -- just over an hour in length -- was the seventh public forum she has held across the state.

"I care about my constituents and what's on their minds, what their concerns are," Gillibrand said, at the event.

"The fundamental truth about our democracy," the senator said, "is that it really only works when regular people stand up."

Despite a defeat by her Republican colleagues in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Gillibrand said there is much to be done to strengthen former President Obama's signature legislation.

"Obviously, we finished Congress with a huge fight about health care and, unfortunately, we know what was being offered by Republican senators would have really harmed New York," Gillibrand said. "It would have meant about 15 million people would have bad insurance... It also wouldn't have guaranteed that if you have any pre-existing condition that you wouldn't have access to affordable coverage."

"That doesn't mean Obamacare is perfect, because for a lot of people health care is still too expensive," Gillibrand added. "What I think the right result would be is if we could have a Medicare for All system."

Such a health system would allow citizens to buy health insurance at rates they could afford, she said.

"That's how you get to a single-payer. It's how you get to a not-for-profit public system," Gillibrand said at the Town Hall session.

The senator said private insurance companies do not have the same incentive to offer affordable care.

"They have a very large layer of profit," she said. "In addition to CEO pay and other expenses that a non-for-profit provider wouldn't necessarily have. And we know that Medicaid and Medicare work very well and they have very low overheads... If you believe, as I do, that health care should be a right and not a privilege, then you're never going to get there on a for-profit system because the goal of these multinational for-profit companies is profit. It's not helping low-income citizens."

People who asked Gillibrand questions were chosen by lottery.

In response to one question from the crowd of attendees -- about plans by the Trump administration to cut funding to programs that try to reduce teen pregnancies -- Gillibrand said such cuts would be harmful.

"I think one of the things that President Trump has done is really gut a lot of funding programs that have worked in communities across the state... including teen pregnancy prevention programs," Gillibrand said. "His budget also cuts funding for the arts, humanities and sciences."

"It's a very harmful budget and I disagree with it. I'm trying to make sure we make the case for why these cuts are harmful," she said.

The senator, a Democrat, also voiced her support for medical marijuana.

"I will work very hard to see what I can do to create more affordability," Gillibrand said.

"The reason why I support medical marijuana around the country is because I've met so many patients who desperately need this medicine," she added, "and I've met so many parents of children who have hundreds of seizures a day, and the right medicine seems to stop their seizures is medical marijuana, specifically CBD, which is an oil that takes out the THC which, for some reason, really affects patients favorably who experience seizures."

Gillibrand also spoke of the benefits to cancer patients and those who suffer from glaucoma.

"There are patients with really horrible health care issues, and it's outrageous to me that federal government stands in the way of getting access to medicine," said Gillibrand.

One audience member, a woman who said she was 84 and a lifelong Democrat, expressed disappointment with what she called the Democratic's party lack of a strong message to counter that offered by Republicans and President Trump.

But Gillibrand offered a different take on that point.

Careful not to speak for other elected officials in her party, Gillibrand addressed her own beliefs as a Democrat.

"I stand for Medicare for All. I stand for rewarding work in this country, which means raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, having a national paid-leave plan, having affordable daycare, having universal pre-K, equal pay for equal work. I believe every child in this country should have an opportunity for affordable, good education from public school through college," the senator said.

"We all know Washington is broken... but the only way to fix it is for people to run for office, to fight for their values, to fight for what they believe in," Gillibrand said, "and to try to bring bipartisan consensus around those ideas."

Gillibrand said she saw grassroots activism as vital. She noted she was a participant in the Women's March that took place on the day of President Trump's inauguration.

"The protests matter," the senator said. "Never believe they don't."

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