Democrats Launch Effort to Preserve Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid With Emotional Rallies Across Nation
The Democrats’ emerging fight to preserve Obamacare and not gut the nation’s other major health care programs (Medicaid for the poor and middle-class; Medicare for the elderly) is striking an emotional and deeply felt note that was not seen in the 2016 presidential campaign.
At rallies across the country this past weekend, Democratic members of Congress were joined onstage by local constituents and physicians who told the thousands assembled before them about the intimate details of their health struggles and how the main elements of Obamacare, in conjunction with Medicaid and Medicare, helped keep them and their family members alive and cut out-of-pocket emergency care costs.
“Our VIPs here today are our special guests who will tell their story. They are more eloquent than anything we can say about the importance of the Affordable Care Act,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said, speaking at a rally of 5,000-plus people from the steps of San Francisco City Hall that Pelosi called “our first stand to preserve health care for all Americans.” Pelosi was joined by Democratic congressional representatives Anna Eshoo, Mike Thompson, Zoe Lofgren, Eric Swalwell, Ro Khanna and Keith Ellison.
Noting that thousands had gathered on Sunday across from the civic center where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous 1956 speech to the NAACP convention, Pelosi continued, “He said of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane. We created the Affordable Care Act to strike down the injustice that keeps affordable, quality health care out of the reach of millions of our fellow Americans. We established it because we believe that health care is a right for all, not just a privilege for the few… for every American.”
“That is what we are about here today,” she continued. “Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress want to tear down the ACA, destroy Medicare and Medicaid, and defund Planned Parenthood. Their plan is to make America sick again. The Republicans must understand that the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, family planning are all wedded together. If you fracture the ACA, you impact these vital pillars of health, economic and health security for America’s families.”
Pelosi and other members of Congress kept their remarks short—five minutes or less—and then did what was not seen in the 2016 campaign; they turned the microphone over to ordinary people who, while undoubtedly prepared and vetted, spoke at length about how government health care programs fill voids and help them in ways the private sector does not. That’s because even though the ACA’s greatest weakness is that it preserves the system of private health insurance, it limits where insurers can deny coverage, price gouge, expands coverage umbrellas and subsidizes lower-income households.
“So here’s my story. On a bright Saturday morning, August 26, 2016, I received a phone call from my 24-year-old son,” began Cathy Forte, standing at the podium with a picture of her college-age son. “His voice was slurred. He said the left side of his leg was paralyzed, so you could imagine—my only son, my entire life…. He was rushed to a local hospital where they kept him for four days for observation. The MRI showed that he suffered three consecutive strokes that Saturday morning. He’s only 24.”
Forte continued, explaining how the ACA helped her son get emergency care and post-stroke medication and how those safeguards are threatened by the GOP’s planned repeal.
“So I work for Oracle in Redwood City and it’s through the benefits of the ACA which allow a parent to keep his or her child on their own insurance. The hospital was able to keep my son alive and prevent any neurological damage,” she said. "If the ACA is repealed, my son and thousands of other children who are covered by their parents in the Bay Area will lose their benefits. And for children like my son, who has a preexisting condition, it will be difficult to buy insurance. As you know, before the ACA, people who were on their own… paid exorbitant prices.”
Forte was followed by survivors of terrible diseases like uterine cancer, who said they would not be alive today without the emergency and followup care they received. Then came Ashley McMullen, a primary care doctor at San Francisco General Hospital and part of Committee of Interns and Residents, a union representing 14,000 resident physicians nationwide as well as SEIU, which includes 1 million health care workers. McMullen spoke of the impact on physicians and facilities where clientele are people who see the ACA as a critical safety net.
“I want to first thank our representatives who stood up for patients and doctors and voted no on the [House] budget resolution [cutting Obamacare component programs] last week. We still have a long way to go,” she said, referring to the GOP’s first steps toward repeal late last week. “Like many of us here, I am both frustrated and frankly terrified by the current moves in the next administration to repeal the ACA with no discernible plan to protect our most vulnerable patients from losing their access to health care.”
“Here I am now, a primary care doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, where nearly all of the patients I take care of are insured by Medicaid or Medicare,” she continued. “Many of them are newly insured under the ACA, so I am now able to provide them with free cancer screening, treatment for their chronic diseases including mental health and substance abuse counseling. My female patients can get free birth control and family planning counseling. And in the event one of my patients needs to be hospitalized, we can rest assured that they won’t have to bear the full weight of that cost. So this is why I became a doctor and why I am here speaking today, because I, like Leader Pelosi, believe health care is a human right, not a privilege and not a commodity, and every person in this country deserves access to affordable care.”
The rally continued with Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN, who is running for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship, saying that this fight is just beginning and will require a toughness and fortitude that may take some time and involve people forcefully protesting.
“We will win, but we just have to fight, you guys,” he began. “I want you to know that we need unity in this moment. I don’t care if you are a conservative Republican or a liberal progressive like me, we need everybody because everybody gets sick. Am I right? And everybody’s got to go to the doctor. And we are going to fight to come together so that we can defend the Affordable Care Act.”
“This is not the first time that we have to fight for it,” Ellison continued, citing the passage of the law and mostly preserving it at the U.S. Supreme Court. “Now we have to defend the Affordable Care Act in the streets. And I want to know, are you ready [cheers]? We are going to defend it in the streets. We might have a few rallies, what do you think? [cheers] We might have to have a few marches, what about that? [cheers] And we might even have to do a few sit-ins. Are you ready for that? I am. And let me just say that I have nothing but pure admiration for the courageous people who come before you to tell you about the intimate details of their lives as they have fought through these illnesses and the Affordable Care Act has helped them.”
With that, Ellison introduced John DiCastro, a retiree who said his wife has a heart condition while he has asthma and has survived cancer. He described how the parts of the ACA that affect Medicare-related prescription drug prices have saved his family thousands of dollars.
“The ACA has done for my family, no co-pays for annual wellness exams,” he began. “It’s eliminated the co-pays and deductible for preventive surgeries like colonoscopies, cancer screening and even the flu shot. It’s saved our family thousands of dollars over the last few years. The reduction of the ‘donut hole’ or the coverage gap, which is the official name of it, has improved the affordability of drugs somewhat—because the drug companies have caught onto the fact that they can increase the prices…. Now the Republicans want to repeal the ACA. They want to reopen the donut hole. They want to forget the agreement that was made that the donut hole would shrink to nothing by 2010, where we would pay a 25 percent co-pay maximum on any drug that we buy… What are they thinking?”
Pelosi took the podium as the rally closed, and answered DiCastro’s question.
“They want to cut Medicaid when they do the Affordable Care Act,” Pelosi said. She reminded everyone that despite recent rhetoric—like Donald Trump telling the Washington Post this weekend that he wants everyone to be covered with a health plan—congressional Republicans want to gut these programs by ending the federal subsidies and regulatory controls in the health care market.
“The Republicans don’t have a plan,” Pelosi said. “Their plan—you know what their plan is? Cut and run. Cut the health coverage for working families and run. Cut women’s right to life-saving preventative care and affordable contraception, a hospital’s ability to care for their community by saddling them with massive uncompensated care—cut and run. Cut 3 million jobs, weaken economic growth. Cut Medicaid, which goes across the economic spectrum, which affords the middle-class elderly, in addition to the working poor, with long-term health care affecting all families in America. They want to cut Medicare benefits. The only thing they want to increase are prescription drug prices and they want to destroy the Medicare guarantee. They want to cut that and run. That is not a plan. That is a disaster.”