Speakers rally voters to oppose repeal of ACA

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Ashley Boyer had been given a second chance at life, and she wasn’t going to waste it.

“Sorry about my voice. I’m working on it,” she quietly said to voters gathered at an Aug. 9 health care rally at Kansas City’s City Hall. The rally and press conference in Kansas City was one stop on the two-month, cross-country bus tour of Drive For Our Lives, designed to share the stories of voters whose health care coverage would be threatened by Congress’ repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Obamacare.

A severe stroke in 2007 rendered Boyer paralyzed from the waist up. She had to relearn how to walk, how to talk, how to eat. Boyer and her family relied heavily on Medicaid for her recovery; thanks in part to Medicaid’s coverage, Boyer not only was able to relearn all of those abilities that many others take for granted – she was able to earn not one, but two college degrees in the process.

“I’ve been able to attend college full time, and earn my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree,” Boyer said to cheers and applause. “They were both a struggle, but I was given good care.”

Boyer ended her speech by addressing lawmakers directly: “Every American deserves to have a safety net. (An illness) can change your world in the blink of an eye. We’ve worked so hard. Let us have that.”

Boyer was one of several speakers at the Aug. 9 rally, joining a chorus of community members, health care providers, spiritual leaders, and politicians in their pleas to remain active in the battle for preserving the tenets of ACA.

Local OBGYN Dr. Valerie French echoed Boyer’s opinion on the importance of Medicaid, adding that she works with patients every day who directly benefit from its coverage.

“Our priorities must include protection of expanded Medicaid services, prenatal care and birth control. We must protect Medicaid coverage,” French said. “In Missouri, half of our deliveries are paid for by Medicaid.”

French said Planned Parenthood continues to be a target of defunding by conservative legislators, and she shared a story about her own sister’s gratitude for care when she faced a personal financial crisis.

“In my sister’s own words, ‘Planned Parenthood literally impacted how much food I could afford to buy that week,’” she said. “Planned Parenthood takes care of women no matter their circumstance, and we will not allow legislators to strip them of their funding.”

Local resident Wayne Dean spoke of the continuation of the ACA as good business sense, especially for smaller businesses. He said that without the ACA, he would never have been able to start his own housing business.

“In spring of 2016, it looked like the housing market was ready to take off, and I had some partners ready to invest in my new venture,” Dean said. “My wife got pregnant with our third kid. When I looked into health plans, I found out that if the ACA were repealed, it would be possible for my wife to be denied medical coverage, because pregnancy would be defined as a pre-existing condition. I thought, in the country that is the best in the world top start a small business, I was being asked to risk my family’s health to start one.”

Dean said the ACA was crucial to getting his business off of the ground.

“Keeping Obamacare will lead to a robust economy, especially for small business owners,” he said. “If the law is repealed, if someone finds out they have a pre-existing medical condition, the chances of starting a small business are slim.”

Other speakers addressed health care as a moral issue, saying that a country as powerful as the United States has an obligation to care for all of its citizens, regardless of condition or circumstance.

“Our fight is not about politics. Our fight is for people – people of all backgrounds,” said Rabbi Doug Alpert, a local spiritual leader. “We fight for those who live in fear of a catastrophic illness who at best will be financially decimated and at worst will die needlessly because we have politicians who place wealth above human life.

“My religion says that one who has saved a life has saved the entire world, and one who fails to save a life has destroyed the entire world,” Alpert continued. “We have the opportunity to save the entire world.”

Yet other speakers addressed the health care issue as parents looking out for the medical well-being of their own children, including local resident Jordan Smith, whose daughter, Isabelle, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant in 2008.

“We were so grateful we had the health care that we had,” he recalled. “But in 2009, we were starting to get letters from insurance companies saying she had reached her lifetime limit for coverage. She was only a year old. You can imagine the stress that would put on a parent. Isabelle’s preventative medication was $350,000 a year. This could happen to any one of us.”

Missouri politicians were the last to address the crowd. Kansas City Mayor Sly James and former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander both encouraged attendees to remain active in holding those in Washington accountable for their decisions, and said that making their voices heard has already proven an effective method.

Kander said he awoke from a deep sleep only hours after Donald Trump won the presidency on Nov. 8 and had a frank discussion with his wife at 3 a.m., correctly predicting that the Republican-controlled Congress and White House would make the swift repeal of the ACA a priority in the first few months of Trump’s administration.

“I said to her, ‘You know what? I think they’re going to try to repeal Obamacare,’” Kander recalled. “All of you had conversations like that in the 24-hour period (following Election Day). The odds were stacked against us.”

Kander, added “Little did the nation know then that the GOP politicians who had so viciously attacked the Affordable Care Act had no concrete replacement plan in place were their repealing efforts successful. The reason that Trumpcare is dead and Obamacare is alive, is you,” Kander said to audience members. “At the time, everyone said, ‘I don’t care what the odds are. I’m going to march, I’m going to demand answers from these folks.’”

Mayor Sly James had particularly biting criticism for Republican lawmakers who failed to expect such a vocal outcry against repeal and replacement.

“They complained, they whined, they cajoled, they convinced others that (Obamacare) needed to be replaced,” James said. “You would think that when they finally had their chance, they would have had a plan. This shows me, they are a lot better at political nonsense than at governance.”

James encouraged attendees to make their frustration and their anger known at the polls when going to vote in next year’s midterm elections.

“We are at a tipping point,” he said, “We can be mad at the White House and Congress. This is our opportunity to decide who they are. We decide whether they stay in office.”

Until then, Kander said, voters and health care advocates must remain diligent in opposing the repeal and replacement of the ACA, both in words and in actions.

“We have to say, ‘We’re not turning our backs and letting our guard down.’ We’ll keep fighting,” Kander said. “We have a chance to say, ‘Let’s make health care a right in this country.’ Keep showing up to town halls, keep marching, keep doing what you’re doing.”
The Drive For Our Lives Tour will continue throughout the August congressional recess. For more information on the tour, visit www.savemycare.org/tourevents.