Across the country there were rallies held to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. In Rhode Island, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse were joined by Representative James Langevin on stage at Rhode Island College. Representative David Cicilline was traveling out of country but is also a strong supporter of the ACA.
Over 450 people attended the Rally to Defend the Affordable Care Act, which was called by Senators Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders in reaction to repeated threats by the Donald Trump administration and a Republican controlled Congress that has promised the “repeal and replace” the popular program that currently allows 20 million people to have medical insurance.
“The Republican Party‘s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act is in chaos,” wrote Schumer and Sanders. “The American people increasingly understand that throwing 20 million people off health insurance, privatizing Medicare, raising prescription drug costs for seniors and doing away with life-and-death patient protection provisions is not acceptable. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to improve the ACA, not destroy it.”
The rally in Rhode Island was held in conjunction with the Protect Our Healthcare Coalition RI. The coalition notes that in Rhode Island, the ACA has produced the followin benefits:
- More than 100,000 Rhode Islanders now have healthcare coverage through Medicaid expansion and HealthSource RI subsidized plans.
- 465,000 Rhode Islanders cannot be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition.
- 15,000 RI Seniors save a combined $14 million annually on their prescription drugs.
- More than 12,000 new jobs have been created in our healthcare industry through investments in our healthcare system under the ACA.
- Investments in primary care and prevention mean fewer emergency room visits and better quality of life, especially for those with chronic conditions.
Senator Jack Reed told the crowd “You are making a huge difference in keeping the Affordable Care Act!”
“The first job of the new Republican Congress was on day one to repeal Obamacare,” said Reed, “Because of you that didn’t happen, and because of what we do today, and the next day and the next day, it won’t happen.”
Rachel Flum executive director of the Economic Progress Institute, represented the Protect Our Healthcare Coalition RI. “Here in Rhode Island the uninsured rate has gone down to 4 percent,” said Flum, “The lowest it’s ever been.” It’s not just the ACA, but Medicare and Medicaid are also under threat from Congress.
“Thanks to you and thanks to the effort of people in the other 49 states across the country, their effort to repeal Obamacare is stopped,” said Whitehouse. Even Republican Senator Lamar Alexander has said, “Repeal is over, we’re into repair” according to Whitehouse.
To a standing ovation Whitehouse said, “What the Democrats in the Senate have said is, we’re doing nothing, we’re not cooperating with you. If you want to talk, throw in the towel on repeal.”
“This is their long standing opposition to Medicare, their long standing opposition to Medicaid” said Whitehouse, “We thought we had those zombies buried, but they’re coming back out of the earth again, and they walk the planet, and we need to put them back in the ground where they belong.”
Whitehouse got his second standing ovation when he said, “I’ve refiled the public option.” The public option is “a proposal to create a government-run health insurance agency which would compete with other private health insurance companies within the United States.”
Jonathan Staloff from Brown Students for the Affordable Care Act had a patient suffering from diabetes. “I quickly learned that his true underlying condition was that he was uninsured.” Staloff sent his patient to the free clinic, Clinica Esperanza in Providence and one year later learned that the man was insured under the Medicaid expansion portion of the ACA.
“We must voice our dissent so that health reform is only undertaken in the name of expanding healthcare for the people, not to take it from them.”
US Representative James Langevin said “We are not going to allow Republicans to privatize Medicare or require a voucher” and “we are as sure as heck not going to block grant Medicaid.”
George Tierney said he was here today, “and I mean alive, because of the ACA.” A self-employed contractor, George suffered a litany of healthcare issues would have destroyed him, both physically and economically, were it not for Obamacare.
His preference is for single-payer healthcare, or Medicare for All. “A healthy population, with an affordable, comprehensive health care system and delivery system should be a right in this country.”
The Protect Our Healthcare Coalition RI is collecting stories of lives changed and save because of Obamacare. You can share your story of Obamacare here.
The rest of the rally consisted of questions form the audience. I’ll do my best to describe them.
The first question addressed the rising costs of health care and the need for single payer. Reed, Whitehouse all seemed to back the idea, but also admitted it would be a hard sell with the present administration and congress.
The second audience was a request that Trump be held to his campaign promise of getting the United States to negotiate for better pharmaceutical prices with industry.
Langevin was asked to support the investigation into Trump by demanding an independent prosecutor. Langevin said he supports an investigation but stopped short of calling for a special prosecutor.
A psychiatrist wanted to address the positive impacts on mental healthcare of the ACA. The present system of delivering healthcare insurance is too complex. “We need a driver’s license you take to your doctor that says yes, you come from America, you’re a Rhode Islander, come into the office.”
The next question concerned the lack of diversity in the room, both in the audience and on the stage.
Because of Obamacare, a woman said she could leave a job she hated for a better job even with a pre-existing condition that previously would have prevented such a move.
A psychiatrist wanted to address the positive impacts on mental healthcare of the ACA.
More on mental health from SEIU 1199‘s Patrick Quinn.
The politicians on the stage are asked to refuse donations from insurance and pharma companies. Disappointingly, none would pledge to refuse such donations, merely promising to not let such donations influence their votes.
A question about Trump’s assault on our free press by excluding the NY Times and others from a press briefing. The fourth estate is supposed to be separate from the three branches of government said Whitehouse, “But by God we’ve got to have their backs when this sort of stuff happens.”
Single payer vs. Public option is discussed. The public option seems a path towards single payer.
A question about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Neither Senator will officially come out against Gorsuch until hearings are held, but Whitehouse asked rhetorically, how likely is Gorsuch to answer tough questions satisfactorily?
The Senators and Langevin are asked to stand up for reproductive rights. They are then asked about the strategy of expanding Medicare for more people.
“Mexicans are not criminals, we are hard working people,” said a man, to a standing ovation. After wards he said, “Makes me proud. Thank you Rhode Island, thank you.”