PARTISANSHIP SUCCUMBED TO THE COMMON GOOD
People power doesn’t sleep. The nation saw proof on July 28 at about 1:30 a.m. in the U.S. Senate, when three votes from Republican senators ended the latest drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Such is the right wing’s determination to destroy Obamacare, and with it President Obama’s legacy of expanding our social safety net, that the U.S. Senate chose to follow the path of the House of Representatives and advanced a vastly unpopular vote to repeal major parts of the ACA.
The plan went down in flames. After massive outcry and an inundation of worry and anger from constituents, three Republican senators could not conscience the ramifications of their actions and voted “no”.
Shirley Newsome, a home health aide who works for the All Metro agency in New York City, spoke at a July 25 press conference on the steps of New York City Hall in Manhattan. It was the day after the Vice President Mike Pence stepped in as a tiebreaker to allow the vote to go forward.
“I believe that affordable healthcare is a right, not a privilege. It is clear that the majority of Senate Republicans feel otherwise,” said Newsome.
While many in Congress rail against the ACA, it’s clear their positions don’t reflect their constituents’. People from every stripe and background have been united and activated; 1199ers, community groups, disability rights advocates, women’s health advocates, providers, the faith community and a host of other allies continue to turn out in massive numbers for the fight to preserve Obamacare’s coverage.
In statement released after the vote, 1199SEIU President George Gresham expressed pride, relief and tempered celebration. “We applaud the Democratic and Republican Senators who averted a disaster. For now, public healthcare programs like Medicaid will continue to provide care for our most vulnerable. Insurance companies will not penalize Americans for being sick. Healthcare jobs will continue to thrive in local communities and beyond. This is a victory today, but the work will continue,” said Gresham.
“We know that the Republican leaders who failed last night will be working overtime to bring this repeal back to life and plan additional attacks on healthcare funding. We must – and will – stay vigilant in our efforts to protect and improve access to quality healthcare,” he also warned.
TIRELESS MOBILIZING MADE THE DIFFERENCE
The Union and its allies have been battling repeal without replacement since shortly after Election Day, when President Trump made clear that killing the ACA was his administration’s highest priority.
Under a banner of “Care Not Chaos” 1199ers and their allies took to Washington, D.C., statehouses and city halls around the country. Leading up to the July vote, members were tireless in their mobilizing. In early July, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visited 1199’s Manhattan headquarters where volunteers gathered for several days of phone banking. They spoke with voters in swing states, urging them to call their Senators and tell them to vote against any bill which would repeal the ACA without an equitable replacement.
“We should be proud that a huge movement has been built to protect affordable healthcare,” Mayor de Blasio told the volunteers.
In the same week, Demelsa Moodie, a linen department worker at New York City’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, was among the hundreds who gathered at the hospital on July 17.
Hosted by New York State’ Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and attended by New York City Mayor De Blasio, the event showcased the power of a unified labor movement.
“Stay loud and stay visible! We will win this!” Schneiderman urged. “Healthcare is a lifeline for many people and I’m very worried that it is going to be taken away,” Moodie said at the rally. “I have kidney disease and without my healthcare benefits I would not be able to afford the treatments. I live by myself, so I can’t rely on family member’s insurance.”
In his remarks, Gov. Cuomo hammered the Republican healthcare bill’s inequity.
“The Republicans have not been talking about changing healthcare provision for all – just for poor people, seniors, the disabled and our veterans,” he insisted.
In New Jersey, 1199 members and elected officials voiced similar concerns and a commitment to saving healthcare for the many, not just the few.
“Without proper funding, how can we give proper care?” demands Yesinia LaFleche, an LPN at ManhattanView nursing home in Union City, New Jersey. “It affects everything if there are not the resources available to hire enough staff, to have enough supplies, to prepare them good food,”
LaFleche and 200 other caregivers hosted a March rally at the New Jersey State House with nursing home residents and elected leaders to press the state to increase Medicaid funding for nursing homes –exactly the type of funding that would be endangered if the Affordable Care Act were to be repealed. Their efforts were successful; an additional $5.25 million in Medicaid funding is included in the 2018 New Jersey state budget.
Nicole Singleton, CNA at Newark’s New Vista nursing home affirmed the need to protect resources for nursing home funding.
“Working at a nursing home is hard. There’s a lot of turnover because it’s easy to get frustrated and feel overwhelmed,” she said. “But I do it because I really care about my residents. I’ve gotten to know many of them on an individual basis and I want to help them as best as possible. That’s why I believe we need to protect Medicaid.”
WORKERS DESCRIBED THE DANGERS OF ACA REPEAL
In Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) confirmed that he would have supported the Senate’s repeal bill, 1199 members gathered repeatedly at his offices to discuss its terrifying ramifications. Rubio refused to hear healthcare workers’ warnings that the proposed legislation could strain emergency rooms with an overflow of the uninsured and those who can’t afford basic care.
In Maryland, 1199SEIU members shared their first hand experiences at a Moral Healthcare Forum held in June with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen and several state legislators calling on Maryland Governor Larry Hogan not to remain silent as the bill was passing through the Senate.
Jennifer Patton-Ortiz was among the RNs who gathered at the Union’s Manhattan headquarters for a July phone-banking day.
“If we don’t take a stand now, where will we be in a few years’ time, when they start closing hospitals?” said Jennifer Ortiz-Patton, an RN from Orange Regional Medical Center in Middletown, NY. “My background is in the ICU and we see overdoses all the time. I will never forget the day when I held a mother’s hand as she wheeled her son to the Operating Room for organ donation. We have the means to save lives, but now that funding has been under threat.”