Local Obamacare advocates share stories, urge action during town hall meeting

Lawrence resident Joe Harkins speaks in favor of national health insurance during a town hall meeting on health care Thursday at the Lawrence Public Library.

? Around 70 people who support the federal health care law known as Obamacare turned out for a town hall meeting Thursday to share their own personal health care stories and to organize a campaign to pressure the local congressional delegation not to repeal or weaken the law.

The gathering occurred just a few days after Senate Republican leaders, for the second time this summer, called off a vote on a bill to repeal and replace the law, officially known as the Affordable Care Act, because they couldn’t get 50 GOP senators to support it.

“These bills are zombies. They’re hard to kill,” Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, advised the audience. “They will keep coming back time and time and time again.”

Lawrence resident Joe Harkins speaks in favor of national health insurance during a town hall meeting on health care Thursday at the Lawrence Public Library.

The event was organized by the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, which has actively lobbied for expanding the Kansas Medicaid program under Obamacare, Indivisible LFK, which is part of a national network of progressive activists who began organizing after the 2016 presidential election, and other health care advocacy groups.

Several people who attended said they feared any repeal of Obamacare would include repealing its requirement that people cannot be denied insurance coverage for a pre-existing condition.

Anjali Kansal-Rill said she suffered from severe post-partum depression last year after giving birth to her daughter and at one point contemplated suicide. With support from her husband, she quickly sought treatment from her family physician and is doing much better today, but she said she now has a medical record of a pre-existing mental health condition.

“If we go back to a world where there are pre-existing conditions, no one will touch me,” she said. “That will be held against me forever because I got the help I needed to be a mom.”

Courtney Eiterich, of Lenexa, who said she was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, said she would never be able to afford health insurance without the subsidies available under Obamacare for policies sold on the online exchange markets.

For the two years before subsidized policies became available on the Obamacare exchange markets, she said her family paid more than $2,300 a month for insurance. With Obamacare, she said, they pay about half of that.

Over the past nine years, she said, she and her husband have paid more than $200,000 in out-of-pocket costs, counting insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

“Which is outrageous,” she said. “We are in a position now where we have spent money that we didn’t need to spend. Retirement money. We’ve spent money on things that shouldn’t have had to have been a choice.”

Joe Harkins of Lawrence also spoke out during the meeting to say he did not believe either Obamacare or the Republican alternatives would ever solve the real problems of health care costs and access to care.

“We’re fighting for little pieces of territory that don’t solve the problem,” he said. “Nothing short of Medicare as health insurance for all is going to solve this problem.”

The passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 helped ignite the tea party movement that put Republicans back in control of both chambers of Congress over the next two years. Since then, Congress has voted several times to completely repeal the law, but those measures never got past President Barack Obama.

With Donald Trump now in the White House, however, Republicans are finally in a position to deliver on that promise. Ironically, though, just as they came into that position, polls have showed the popularity of Obamacare has grown.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking the program’s popularity since its inception, found in June that a slim majority of people surveyed, 51 percent, had a favorable opinion of the law while only 44 percent had an unfavorable opinion. That compares to a 33-percent approval rating the law had at its low point in November 2013.

An ABC-Washington Post survey last week found 50 percent of those questioned favored Obamacare over the Republican health care plan, while only 24 percent favored the GOP plan.

In May, the U.S. House passed its own version of a “repeal-and-replace” bill called the American Health Care Act, or AHCA. All four House members from Kansas, all of whom are Republicans, voted in favor of the bill.

But efforts have run into a wall of resistance in the U.S. Senate, mainly due to divisions between moderate Republicans who would prefer to fix what they see as problems in Obamacare, and conservatives who want nothing less than a full repeal.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, who is generally seen as a conservative, has opposed both plans that Senate GOP leaders have come up with so far, saying they did not go far enough in repealing Obamacare, while at the same time saying they would have been bad for rural health care in Kansas.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, also a Republican, has supported both repeal-and-replace bills.