ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now, we're going to talk about the politics of health care. Democrats hope the controversial House bill will push political momentum their way and result in big gains in the 2018 midterm elections. Before then, there will be special elections to fill vacant seats in Congress. There's one happening next week in Montana. Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney talked with voters there.
ERIC WHITNEY, BYLINE: Montana is Trump country. The president won by 20 points here thanks to people like these.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you for the very lovely prayer at the rally for Greg Gianforte at...
WHITNEY: They're members of the Glacier Country Pachyderm Club who get together once a month in Kalispell and talk about advancing Republican values. Jim Lynch is a regular and says health care is a top issue for him in Montana's special election. Lynch, who's 63, hates Obamacare. He says he's maintained good health coverage himself through the Obama administration.
JIM LYNCH: But there's a lot of people in my shoes that aren't that lucky. And I do know personally that they've seen huge increases in health care costs to the point where, you know, they don't even have it anymore.
WHITNEY: Lynch tells me he doesn't think the House health care bill is perfect but that he's confident that as President Trump shepherds it through Congress, it will be modified into something much better than the Affordable Care Act.
About a hundred miles south in Missoula, restaurant owner Molly Galusha dreads the idea of repealing the health care law. She says the current health care law subsidies have made it possible for her employees to afford health coverage on the wages she can afford to pay them. Galusha is 62 and gets her health coverage through her husband's job.
MOLLY GALUSHA: We're old and broken (laughter).
WHITNEY: She says she doesn't know what they'd do if their insurance went away because the Affordable Care Act's protections for people with pre-existing conditions protect her and her husband.
GALUSHA: We are uninsurable as a couple, so we're very grateful.
WHITNEY: The Republican candidate in this special election is Greg Gianforte. He says he won't vote for a health care bill that doesn't work for Montana.
GREG GIANFORTE: I need to know that in fact it'll bring premiums down, preserve rural access and protect people with pre-existing conditions.
WHITNEY: Gianforte says he would have voted against the House health care bill because there wasn't enough time to read and understand the bill before the House voted. Democrats say don't believe that line. They point to a fundraising call that Gianforte did with lobbyists on the day the House bill passed, which was leaked to The New York Times.
GIANFORTE: Sounds like we just passed a health care thing, which I'm thankful for, and that we're starting to repeal and replace.
WHITNEY: Democratic candidate Rob Quist pounced on those words. To win, Quist needs to get at least some Republican voters to cross over to him, so he's trying to convince Republicans that their candidate will sell out the state's interests on health care.
ROB QUIST: Montanans want a congressman who will shoot straight, not a dishonest politician who says one thing to Montanans and another to the millionaires behind closed doors.
WHITNEY: But the House health care bill itself is unlikely to sway entrenched Republican voters here. They trust President Trump and Gianforte to deliver on repealing and replacing the current health care law. Quist, the Democrat, says he wants to build on the ACA and thinks the country should eventually move to a single-payer system. For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Missoula, Mont.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.