Legislators could not ignore the mass protests.
Not since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called Obamacare, had the stakes been so high. From coast to coast, people raised their voices, crowded into town hall meetings and unleashed a social media storm that opposed the cruel, inhuman Congressional bill that was supposed to replace the ACA.
When Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced on March 24 that he would not call a vote on the repeal bill, 1199ers, their allies and healthcare advocates around the nation led the chorus of cheers. 1199ers were celebrating the initial defeat of an atrocious bill, as well as the recognition that their hard work had been successful. Since Democrats were uniformly opposed to the bill, 1199ers and allies lobbied Republican members to get them to oppose the measure.
“The ACA is not just about health care, it’s about the health of our entire community.”
“I believe that health care is a right,” says Almitra Yancey, a customer service liaison at the Tarrytown, NY, campus of Montefiore Hospital and a frontline defender of the ACA. Yancey notes that the Medicaid cuts that were included in the bill would have not only deprived our most vulnerable of necessary care, but that “it also would have a ripple effect on all of us and our healthcare system as a whole.”
Yancey and her 1199SEIU sisters and brothers were part of an army of concerned advocates who cited the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finding that passage of the bill would mean Medicaid cuts of $880 billion over a 10-year period and an increase in the uninsured of 14 million in 2018 and 26 million by 2026.
Many referred to the bill as “wealthcare” because it called for the transfer of billions in tax cuts over the next 10 years to the richest two percent of Americans.
It was the rollback of ACA Medicaid expansion that had extended coverage to 11 million previously uninsured in 31 states and the District of Columbia that would have struck the most damaging blow to 1199ers and those they care for. In New York State alone, Medicaid provides coverage for 6.4 million people—among them, 2.3 million in New York City alone.
“Medicaid is integral to the people I serve,” says Katherine Lewis, an OBGYN physician assistant at Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC) on Staten Island, NY. Lewis lobbied, attended meetings and addressed a Staten Island Town Hall meeting. “Health disparities will worsen without Obamacare and Medicaid,” she warned at the meeting.
She also was concerned about what the repeal of the ACA world mean for the community in which she works and also was born and raised. “When you drill down, those most affected by cuts would be children, seniors and disabled people,” she says. “The cuts would affect their health and the health of our entire community.”
Republican Dan Donovan, Staten Island’s lone member of Congress, heard the pleas of Lewis and others in the district. Although he originally supported the bill, Rep. Donovan announced just moments before the last scheduled vote in Congress that he would vote against it.
New Jersey advocates were able to convince three Republican Congress members to oppose the bill. The bill would have cut $3 billion in state Medicaid funding and thrown 550,000 persons off the Medicaid rolls.
“If Medicaid is cut, it will hurt our ability to care for our residents,” cautioned Ella Moton, a CNA at HarborView NH in Jersey City. Moton was among the speakers at a March 22 rally against the Republican healthcare bill outside the Trenton, NJ statehouse.
Moton warned that Medicaid cuts would have worsened the staff resident ratio at nursing homes, making it more difficult to provide adequate care. She cited a former resident, a retired Tuskegee airman, one of the historic WWII African American pilots. “It was an honor to care for him after everything he did for our country” she said. “Someone like him should never have to sit alone in the corner all by himself because there isn’t enough staff to give him compassionate care.”
Pleas like those of Moton convinced the last New Jersey Republican holdout, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, to announce his opposition.
At press time, jubilant 1199ers were celebrating the healthcare victory, albeit with eyes on recently introduced draconian federal budget.
“This means we can really build a people’s movement,” affirmed 1199SEIU Pres. George Gresham. “But then we need to get back to work and raise the volume even higher for our next battle.”