Unions, Activists Vow to Keep Pressure on as GOP Defections Kill Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON—Unions, activists and advocates for better U.S. health care vowed to keep the pressure on Congress after two more Senate Republicans’ defections killed the latest GOP plan to repeal and allegedly replace the Affordable Care Act, the nation’s 7-year-old comprehensive health care law.

That’s because the defeat of the Republicans’ measure led its sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to reveal many if not most Republicans’ real goal: To repeal the ACA without replacing it.

And that would be “an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions” for millions, says Ethan Rome of Health Care Action Now, a D.C.-based coalition of unions and progressives. HCAN’s steering committee includes the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Service Employees, the Auto Workers, the National Education Association and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Unions’ activism included a Steelworkers video of an Ohio USW member and his 1-year-old son. Both have brain cancer, and both would see their coverage yanked if either the ACA is repealed but not replaced, or was replaced with McConnell’s now-dead measure.

Instead of “celebrating as newlyweds and new parents,” the video says, Maggie and Ryan Link are worrying about coverage for Ryan and Nathan. They’re also calling senators.

They’re not alone. “Our fight is not over yet. All Letter Carriers should call their senators…and urge them to oppose this attack on middle-class workers and their families,” NALC said. And the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, headlined its action alert: “Call Now. Stop Trumpcare,” in big, boldface type. NEA has more than three million members. It stressed the threat of repeal to the kids its members teach and serve.

Later, National Nurses United brought in hundreds of nurses for a Town Hall session of their own, lobbying against repeal and for Medicare for All, on July 19 (see separate story).

McConnell pulled his measure, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, on July 17 after Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, joined its two prior foes, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rand Paul, R-Ky. That left him without enough senators to pass it.

Collins opposed the GOP’s health care rewrite because it would throw 22 million people off of health insurance and particularly Medicaid. Paul and Lee want to kill the ACA and replace it with nothing at all, turning people back onto the mercy, or lack of it, of the insurance companies. Moran opposes the now-dead Senate GOP health care bill, drafted in secret, because it allegedly doesn’t repeal the ACA and doesn’t cut insurance costs.

McConnell may try to bring up his repeal-only bill by July 28, but Republicans Collins, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska oppose even starting debate without a replacement. Their stand leaves McConnell one vote short. All 46 Democrats and both independents oppose McConnell’s measure and/or opening debate.

The repeal-and-don’t-replace option alarms health care activists, who say ACA backers and other Americans will keep taking to the streets, the phone lines, the Internet and more to ensure they keep getting health care coverage and to force the Republicans not to yank it.

“We’ll do everything we can to keep the pressure on so that health care repeal doesn’t come to a vote,” says Rome, HCAN’s co-director. His coalition first came together to help pass the ACA, disbanded, and has re-formed to protect it and to stop GOP health care schemes.

Dumping the ACA without replacing it “would take health care away from 32 million Americans and” health insurance “premiums would double” for millions more, Rome added in a telephone interview. “The insurance industry would be in charge again, people would be sicker and people would die because they wouldn’t have insurance.”

The Republicans “have been so cavalier and irresponsible” in dealing with health care that the whole issue “is a mess,” adds Rachel Rosen deGolia, executive director of Cleveland-based Universal Health Care Action Network, which mobilizes masses for that cause.

Like Rome, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka vowed further activism against GOP health care schemes, because of McConnell’s goal to use the dollars yanked from health care to finance a tax cut for the rich and corporations.

“No payoff to any senator already opposed to this bill can justify giving tax cuts to large corporations and stripping health care from millions. We are determined to stop this dangerous bill and hold accountable everyone responsible for it,” said Trumka.

McConnell touted the Better Care Reconciliation Act as the GOP “replacement” for the ACA, but its key provisions would throw 22 million people off of health care – 15 million of them next year – while providing a $900 billion-plus decade-long tax cut, with $700 billion of it for the rich and corporations.

Before Lee and Moran jumped over the side, McConnell stalled the health care vote because one solon he counted on, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is recovering from surgery and can’t travel. But even McCain was dubious about McConnell’s measure: Hundreds of thousands of Arizonans benefit from ACA’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility – a point Arizona’s GOP governor made to Vice President Mike Pence at a governors’ meeting last weekend.

McConnell’s bill also would force huge increases in insurance premiums, as Rome points out.

Those two prospects pushed millions of people into the streets, into phone calls and e-mails to senators’ offices and into occasional town halls with wavering Republicans. They also pushed Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt. – one of the senators previously committed to opposing McConnell’s bill — out onto the hustings to campaign strenuously against it.

His latest targets, speaking to a huge crowd at “Revolution Iowa” in Des Moines on July 14, were Sens. Jodi Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both R-Iowa. Both – until now – were counted in McConnell’s camp. Sanders previously spoke to big crowds in Ohio and West Virginia, among other states, urging thousands to pressure Capito and Bob Portman, R-Ohio, to oppose McConnell’s health care bill. Before McConnell pulled the plug, Capito and Portman were undecided, and upset over the Medicaid cuts.

“We need one more Republican vote, and I say to Sen. Grassley and Sen. Ernst, please take a hard look at what this disastrous legislation will do to the people of Iowa and the people of America,” Sanders told the Iowa crowd.

“I say to them – I beg of them – please vote no on this legislation…This legislation is so bad, that the Republicans have refused to hold one public hearing and all of their deliberations are behind closed doors,” Sanders said. “That’s how bad this legislation is.”

“Maggie and Ryan Link should have been celebrating life as newlyweds and new parents,” the Steelworkers video text reads. “But instead, this USW family from Ohio faced a nightmare: Ryan was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor first. Then baby Nathan. They thought this was the fight of their lives, but now they’re battling U.S. Senators who this week could take away the hard-working family’s health care along with 22 million other Americans. Watch their story then make a call to tell these senators to vote NO on the ‘Better Care Reconciliation Act.’”

After providing a toll-free number –1-855-764-1010 – to call senators, NEA stated: “Our students need your help. Among all the dangerous consequences this new ‘healthcare’ bill will have, one of the most alarming is how it will completely dismantle Medicaid. Senate Republicans are feeling the pressure from your calls – we must keep it up!

“One-third of all children in America receive their health insurance through Medicaid, but for our students and their families this isn’t only about insurance. Medicaid provides $4 billion per year for healthcare services in our nation’s schools – that’s vision checks and hearing screenings, physical and occupational therapy for students with disabilities, and other critical services that keep our students healthy and ready to learn.”

“Trumpcare” – many activists’ name for McConnell’s measure – “has never been about health care. It’s a naked attempt to steal health care from millions…to pay for massive tax cuts for the richest people in history,” said Working Families Party National Director Dan Cantor, whose group is also part of the mass mobilization against McConnell’s bill. “Even Republican senators must know in their hearts that this is wrong.”

He predicted the activists would continue their fight, not just to defeat similar legislation, but “for a single- payer system to kick profit to the curb and provide health care for all.”

Source: PAI