The firestorm of constituent outrage that swept through February’s congressional recess sends a clear message to lawmakers: If you’re planning on gutting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid, get ready for plenty of opposition — and not just in the expected places.
The GOP’s radical plans for health care, and Medicaid in particular, would reach deep into communities that Republican electeds represent, creating chaos not just for patients, but for hospitals, clinics, small businesses, and local and regional economies.
In Erie County, Pennsylvania, where Donald TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE edged out Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSuper PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary MORE in the presidential election, residents are the big winners in the state’s decision to increase Medicaid coverage through the expansion created under the ACA.
By the end of 2015, the expansion’s first year, almost one-in-10 non-elderly adults in Erie County had enrolled, according to state data. The overall share of state residents covered by Medicaid reached 27.4 percent in the same period, making it second among Pennsylvania counties for Medicaid coverage.
Health care for all these people is threatened if Republican plans go through. Recently, House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE unveiled a thinly-sketched plan to not only roll back the Medicaid expansion, but also end the entire 50-year Medicaid program as we know it.
Ground rules that protect patients, such as guaranteed enrollment, could be tossed out. Funding according to need, would be replaced with a lump-sum block grant or per-person cap. The resulting cuts and rationing would hit hardest the communities most needing the support Medicaid provides.
Understandably, Erie constituents have questions for their lawmakers, but congressmen Rep. Mike Kelly and Rep. Glenn Thompson were both no-shows to a Feb. 21 town hall organized by grassroots organization Keystone Progress and attended by more than two hundred people.
One of those hoping to talk with Kelly and Thompson was Christian Miller, who had only minimal health coverage when he was diagnosed with lupus at age 29. With the Medicaid expansion two years later, he could finally start getting the care he needs.
"This has been a lifesaver for me,” Miller told a reporter at a protest outside the office of Sen. Pat Toomey, who is also avoiding constituents. “I've been able to see badly needed specialist. Afford medications that are astronomically priced and had an opportunity to be able to heal and be a productive member of society."
Miller and other Erie residents are not alone in feeling scared and angry at their elected representatives.
West Virginia small business owners are concerned about how health care rollbacks will affect not only their businesses but also their local economies and communities.
As barber-shop owner Jeff Bratchett told the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “If my clients are forced to pay out-of-pocket for medical care, I lose them as customers.” He and other West Virginia small business owners have joined with the Main Street Alliance to call on Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — Democrats craft billionaire tax with deal in reach Democrats face critical 72 hours Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Manchin nixes Medicare expansion MORE and Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoProviding affordable housing to recruit our next generation of volunteer firefighters Biden's soft touch with Manchin, Sinema frustrates Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After high drama, Senate lifts debt limit MORE to protect and improve health care, not gut it.
The groundswell is not going away. Too much is at stake for the more than 74 million people covered by Medicaid and the more than 11 million with ACA coverage. They will not stand for Congress creating “one big death panel,” as pig farmer and Main Street Alliance of Iowa member Chris Petersen put it to Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyBipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill Another voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter MORE on Feb. 21.
In Maine, constituents are defending what they have now — and going one step further. Mainers for Health Care gathered more than 67,000 signatures to put Medicaid on the ballot and overcome Gov. Paul LePage’s five vetoes of expansion legislation.
Republican elected officials have tried to dismiss those speaking out as “organized,” and engaging in “planned protests.” You bet we are organizing. And we are are planning more activities to defend and expand health care for all people.
We do this because we care about families and communities, and believe our elected representatives should, too. They can do that by voting against any legislation that cuts Medicaid or the ACA, changes the ground rules that protect patients, or results in higher costs or less care for even one of their constituents.
LeeAnn Hall is co-director of People’s Action and served on the executive committee of Health Care for America Now.
The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.