South Florida

Protesters keep up pressure on Rubio, saying healthcare ‘not just for the rich’

Rose Williams, 59, holds up a sign along 36th Street in Doral near Sen. Marco Rubio’s office on July 18, 2017. Williams protested the Senate’s replacement bill, which effectively failed after two more senators announced their opposition June 17.
Rose Williams, 59, holds up a sign along 36th Street in Doral near Sen. Marco Rubio’s office on July 18, 2017. Williams protested the Senate’s replacement bill, which effectively failed after two more senators announced their opposition June 17. spereira@miamiherald.com

The Republican replacement bill for Obamacare seems dead, at least for now. Even so, protesters showed up Tuesday outside the Doral office of Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been firmly in the party’s repeal-and-replace camp.

Despite the apparent victory for the Affordable Care Act supporters, many in the group of about 40 people said they remain concerned about the uncertainty of the ACA’s future — particularly the protections for people with preexisting conditions.

Rose Williams, a 59-year-old mother, said she has lupus, and that her 25-year-old son has cerebral palsy and coverage for both illnesses would have potentially skyrocketed under GOP plans.

She and her son are currently insured under the ACA, she said, because her husband’s employer does not offer family insurance. Even with the ACA, she said, the costs are already “sky-high.” Her deductible is $14,000, which does not include prescriptions — but at least she and her son are assured coverage.

Healthcare “is not just for the rich,” said Williams, who drove 40 minutes from Fort Lauderdale while her son was at work. “We’re the people. Their job is to represent us. That’s supposed to be a democracy, right?”

Healthcare protesters have showed up periodically at Rubio’s office since January, pushing for him to hold a town hall to hear concerns they hope will persuade him to maintain Obamacare or improve upon the existing law. The Congressional Budget Office analysis of the latest GOP proposal estimates 22 million people would lose their insurance by 2026.

Rubio has not taken up the call to hold a face-to-face town hall, saying in February that they were “all designed to have news coverage at night.” So on Tuesday, four of the protesters hand-delivered a video to his staffers — what they called a “digital town hall” — with several people sharing their healthcare stories. The video has also been posted on YouTube.

“We just wanna have a dialogue with the senator,” said Johnny Mathes, a member of Indivisible South Florida, one of several left-leaning groups that Rubio has dismissed as “liberal activists.”

Another protester, Linda Moren, said her mother was in and out of hospitals for 10 years for schizophrenia. She was taking a cocktail of different pills because she did not have coverage and could not see one psychiatrist consistently.

“Yes, it’s not perfect, but they should fix it,” said Moren, referring to Obamacare. “Healthcare shouldn’t be partisan. Healthcare is a human right.”

Shortly after getting covered under the ACA, her mother, who is now 65, was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. Still, Moren said her family was “extremely lucky” compared to others.

“It’s a miracle that my mom has the kind of coverage she has.”

Ronald Fulton, a quadriplegic after a 2001 car accident, was seated in his electric chair alongside protesters on Northwest 36th Street. Fulton is currently covered by Medicaid and Medicare.

“Why don’t we have the same insurance the senators have?” said Fulton, referencing the estimated $76 thousand surgery Sen. John McCain had last Friday. “You can’t put a cap on healthcare.”

He has experienced long waiting lists for various health services, such as an at-home caretaker. The uncertainty of the future of Medicare and Medicaid is worrisome for Fulton.

“That’s what concerns me about it — we don’t know,” he said.

The announcement from Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas that they would vote “No” late Monday effectively killed the bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky responded by calling for a vote to repeal major parts of the ACA without a replacement but late Tuesday, that effort also seemed dead for now. The CBO, back in January, said that repealing the ACA with no replacement would cause 32 million Americans to lose insurance by 2026.

“I don’t know how they vote for that with a conscience,” said Robyn Raymond, who’s not associated with one group but goes to several Indivisible and Women’s March meetings. “That’s horrific.”

“I’m 55. I got a million things going on,” she said. “Stuff happens.”

She is in the age bracket that many of the protesters were concerned about: old enough to deal with multiple health issues, but too young for Medicare. The Senate’s bill that failed this week would have caused monthly premiums to more than double for people over 55, according to an analysis done by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In response to a request for comments, Rubio’s office referred to his daily Facebook Live talk from Tuesday. Rubio said Obamacare is “broken” and “bad for our country.”

“I have voted for that in the past,” he said of a complete repeal. “I will do so again.”

@sydneyp1234

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