August Frank/The Register-Guard
Three members of Oregon’s congressional delegation spent part of their Fourth of July recess rallying opposition to the latest Republican-drafted effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio took to the podium Wednesday morning at the Wayne Morse federal courthouse in downtown Eugene to lead the “It’s Not Over” rally in opposition to The Better Care Reconciliation Act. The bill is the Republican majority’s latest attempt to do away with the ACA, more commonly known as Obamacare.
The three leaders — all Democrats — found a receptive audience at Wednesday’s rally, which was the first health-care-related protest in Oregon since the GOP bill stalled in the Senate last week for a lack of votes.
“This is not about health care,” DeFazio shouted to the crowd. “It is to deliver tax cuts (to the wealthy) that are unprecedented. And in order to do that, you’re going to throw 22 million people off health care.”
More than 400 Eugene residents cheered in response and waved signs that read “Trumpcare = Don’t Care,” “Healthcare not Wealthcare” and “Medicaid saved my brother’s life.”
Indivisible Eugene — a grass-roots movement opposing President Trump’s agenda — started off the rally with a “die-in” at 11:30 a.m. by lying on the ground holding hand-crafted cardboard tombstones with epitaphs that read, “RIP Reproductive Health” and “Paul Ryan is why we’re dyin’.”
“That was basically to show the gravity of the situation, and it’s about the people, not just statistics,” said Steve Lehman of Indivisible Eugene.
Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio each took the stage to stump for preserving Medicare, Medicaid and Planned Parenthood. Merkley repeated his support for moving toward a single-payer health care system.
The Senate health care bill hit a roadblock last Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had hoped to start procedural voting on June 28, announced that the vote to approve the bill was delayed until after senators returned from their July Fourth recess. And in the meantime, he would discuss making changes to the measure.
“We won a big one a week ago, but it didn’t happen by osmosis,” Wyden told The Register-Guard. “It happened because all these wonderful people pushing and prodding and pulling back the system and saying that we don’t want to turn back the clock to the days when health care was for the healthy and the wealthy.”
The American Health Care Act — the name for the House version of the Senate bill — barely passed in early May on a vote of 217 to 213, and it was redrafted in the Senate, largely in private.
On June 26, a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that if the Senate bill becomes law, 22 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 than if Obamacare remains in place.
The Senate bill would continue Medicaid expansion under Obamacare for three years, then begin to roll it back in 2021. The bill also immediately would cut off funding for Planned Parenthood for at least a year.
Both provisions were at the center of discussion at Wednesday’s rally.
Wyden, who is the senior ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, pledged to support Planned Parenthood and the right to reproductive health coverage.
“Anybody who wants to deny women the right to see the health care physician and provider of their choice is going to have to run over me, and we’re going to win,” Wyden said to prolonged applause.
In a conversation after the rally, Merkley said that many Republicans also oppose rolling back the Medicaid expansion, as he’s learned from audience members at his recent town halls.
“People in these rural counties — that I lost by a very large margin when I was running for reelection — came out to say thank you for fighting for us, and please hang in there because there was so much anxiety over what’s happening,” Merkley said. “One out of three individuals in rural America is on some form of Medicaid, and they’re terrified about losing it.”
DeFazio said after the rally that Oregon “would be one of the hardest-hit states in America” if Medicaid was rolled back or eliminated. He said the Fourth District — Lane, Linn, Douglas, Coos, Curry and parts of Josephine and Benton counties — has the fifth-highest number of people on expanded Medicaid in the country.
DeFazio also noted that the Oregon’s Second Congressional District, led for 10 terms by Republican Greg Walden, had the second-highest number of people on expanded Medicaid in the country. Walden chaired the committee that oversaw the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a bill referred to as Trumpcare.
Despite coming under fire at town halls for his efforts to repeal Obamacare, Walden defended the GOP bill during a House session to approve the AHCA on May 4. Walden said Trumpcare would allow “more flexibility for states to innovate” on health insurance. “We’re trying to fix and rescue this market,” he said.
Recent polling has 17 percent of the American people in support of the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
Lane County Republican Party Chairman Wayne Lemler said during a phone interview Wednesday that he’s confident most Lane County Republicans do not support the bill, but for different reasons: He said that he wants a repeal of ACA, but no replacement.
“I think that the American Health Care Act was put together because some establishment Republicans in Washington felt like the backlash of getting rid of Obamacare would be too detrimental to them politically,” Lemler said. “But it’s a constitutional issue, not a political issue. I can read The Constitution, and I don’t see anything in there that says that the United States government is required to or should provide health care.”
While Lemler would like to see a simple repeal, Wyden urged those who oppose the bill for other reasons to send their health care stories in support of Obamacare to him and to Merkley, so they can be read on the Senate floor.
“I think this is the fight of our lifetime,” Wyden said. “But we’ll win.”
Wyden and Merkley will hold another rally in Portland on Thursday, outside of Wyden’s office on 911 NE 11th Ave., Suite 630. Wyden also is hosting a town hall at 11 a.m. Saturday at Springfield High School.
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“I think this is the fight of our lifetime. But we’ll win.”
— Sen. Ron Wyden, D-ORE., who attended a rally in Eugene against a Republican proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act