September 28, 2017: In Washington, D.C., and in states across the country, PWN-USA members stood up and fought hard to protect the promise of the Affordable Care Act from the latest attack, the Graham-Cassidy bill. It was the worst of a series of terrible bills that would have stripped health care coverage from millions, gutted protections for preexisting conditions, dismantled Medicaid, defunded Planned Parenthood and eliminated the guarantee of essential health benefits like prescription drugs, hospitalization, mental health and substance abuse, maternity care and more.
The very day the bill was officially pulled for lack of votes–Tuesday, Sept. 26–members of PWN-USA Pennsylvania held a die-in outside Sen. Pat Toomey’s office in Philadelphia, complete with tombstones and body bags (see above and right). “Repealing essential health benefits will have a devastating effect on my health outcomes as a woman living HIV and preexisting conditions,” said Teresa Sullivan, PWN-USA board member and PWN-USA Pennsylvania senior member, who participated in Tuesday’s action. “My family and friends I care about will lose valuable, lifesaving health care if Graham and Cassidy health bill is passed.”
Meanwhile in Baton Rouge, PWN-USA Louisiana paid a visit to the district office of Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of the bill’s authors, to tell him exactly what they think of his bill. “We are here because we do not want this bill. It will strike a death blow to Medicaid. What we want is bipartisan solutions. We want health care that saves lives,” said Meta Smith-Davis at their protest outside Sen. Cassidy’s office. Check out their video from Facebook live here!
Just a day earlier, on Monday, at least four PWN-USA members were on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., participating in a massive protest outside the Senate chamber where the finance committee hearing on the bill was being conducted–which got so raucous that it caused the hearing to be temporarily put on hold. Check out Ohio member Olga Irwin’s Facebook Live video here! Andrea Johnson of Philadelphia , who rode to D.C. on a bus (left) and was arrested during the action, explained why she put her body on the line: “This bill is a human rights violation that affects women and children! I cannot stand by and let this happen!” Check out her live video of the protest here.
The same day, members of PWN-USA South Carolina gathered with signs outside the district office of Sen. Lindsey Graham to make sure he knew his bill was not what his constituents wanted. “[I’m out here because] it’s important,” said Stacy Jennings. “My health care matters because I deserve to live.”
“The American people oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid,” added Veronica Brisco.
And PWN-USA Colorado partnered with United for a New Economy, Center for Popular Democracy and Indivisible FRR to hold a well-attended action the morning of Friday, September 22, delivering dozens of hand-written messages and coffee. “We kicked off a day of protest at Sen. Gardner’s office demanding that he wake up and smell the coffee, with additional protests from ADAPT and Indivisible FRR at 11 AM, 12 PM and 4 PM. We, his constituents, will show up here in Denver and in D.C. if necessary. He must represent us, not big donors, in health care discussions,” explained Barb Cardell, PWN-USA Board Chair and PWN-USA Colorado co-chair. You won’t want to miss this live video of their action!
PWN-USA Colorado also organized a “phone tree,” where each member reached out to five friends asking them to make calls to Sen. Gardner’s various offices; each of them was to ask another five friends to do the same, and so on. Barb Cardell estimates that the phone tree generated as many as 1700 calls to Sen. Gardner.
“I have taken multiple actions to stop the Graham-Cassidy bill (just as I did for the AHCA and the BHCA) because playing politics with health care is unacceptable,” said Kari Hartel, PWN-USA Colorado co-chair. “I contracted HIV almost 15 years ago. I remember as a young adult fighting to maintain insurance coverage for myself when my the coverage my parents had for me was about to expire (that was just after my diagnosis). I was denied for the very same stand-alone plan with the same company and was forced to pay exorbitant premium prices for COBRA while I finished my college degree. When the COBRA coverage ran out, I was forced to enroll in Colorado’s high risk pool. While I was thankful it existed (so that I did not become un-insurable altogether because of a lapse in coverage), the cost was crippling. I spent many of the following years tethered to one job or another to avoid that same potential lapse in medical coverage. If Graham-Cassidy were approved, I would be, along with millions of other, without health care. Without health care, “chronic” or not, HIV will kill me. It will kill my friends. It will kill clients I have served (aged 2 to 65+) for many years. Without health care, my child would be without a parent. Without health care, my stepchildren (two of whom have “pre-existing conditions) would suffer and potentially die as my family struggled to ensure they could get their inhalers, their medications or even cover a sick visit to the doctor. Action was and is the only option.”
And, of course, there were the thousands of calls placed to Senators by members and allies, both to the HIV Protection Hotline and direct numbers to offices in D.C. and in district.
All of this action comes after a long summer (and spring) of persistent advocacy and activism to defeat the various new versions of the ACA repeal bills–each worse than the last. Months of organizing, mobilizing and taking action are exhausting–but this summer has proved that action works.
We know we will have to remain very vigilant about health care, as many Republicans in Congress and the White House will continue to do everything they can to undermine the promise of the Affordable Care Act rather than working on bipartisan solutions to strengthen markets and increase affordability and access. But with the September 30 deadline to pass a repeal bill with only 50 votes in sight, it is finally safe to say that Medicaid and protections for preexisting conditions remain intact for the foreseeable future thanks to all the dedicated organizing of advocates and activists like us!