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Massachusetts residents cry out against loss of Affordable Care Act

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Massachusetts residents cry out against loss of Affordable Care Act
Boston Medical Center health worker Latia Holmes told attendees at the State House protest that institutions such as BMC that provide care regardless of insurance status will struggle to meet demand if the ACA is repealed.

Thousands of Bostonians turned out at Faneuil Hall last Sunday to condemn Republican plans to revoke the Affordable Care Act. Mayor Martin Walsh, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark and Richard Neal pledged to fight to protect residents, who could lose access to insurance, affordable birth control and many other protections.

“We are making a statement that health care is not a privilege, it’s a right for everybody. It’s a national statement that Massachusetts, Boston and this very special hall has played a very special role in,” Walsh said.

The demonstration was one of 35 held across the nation, and followed upon last Thursday’s State House rally, in which protestors called attention to what they said is the devastating effect Massachusetts residents will suffer if the Republican-controlled Congress goes through with plans to repeal the ACA. Republicans have yet to present clear plans for replacement.

Massachusetts’ history of advancing health care coverage does not shields its residents, as state programs are reliant on federal dollars, advocates say.

“Many people think that whatever happens with the national law, Massachusetts can go back to Romneycare. Not so,” Stephen Rosenfeld, interim executive director of Health Care for All, told attendees at the State House protest. “The implementation of Chapter 58 [the Massachusetts plan passed in 2006, also known as “Romneycare”] was substantially funded by the federal government.”

Up to 500,000 state residents could lose coverage, say representatives of Health Care for All, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Nationally, closer to 18 million people would likely lose their insurance within one year of the ACA repeal and premiums could double over ten years, according to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report released Tuesday.

For Courtney Thomas, a low-income 40-year resident of Boston, the ACA made surgery possible. He’d broken bones in his wrist and ankle from falling while playing basketball, but could not afford monthly health insurance fees and his wrist caused him constant, severe pain. It was not until the ACA brought insurance coverage within his price range for the first time — at $90 a month — that he could finally get treatment and stop the pain.

“For low-income people like me, the difference between not getting insurance and getting it is cost,” Thomas said. “Health insurance shouldn’t be a privilege.”

Dennis Heaphy, a health care advocate at the Disability Policy Consortium, said for people with disabilities, Medicaid can mean the difference between being part of the community or being isolated. A plethora of services, ranging from personal care attendants to meals on wheels to specialists, rely on federal waivers for at least half their funding. If these vanish, many people who have been living more independently will be forced into nursing homes — which, he added, would bring greater cost to the state. Additionally, dwindling care resources may mean parents who are 60 or 70 years old must shoulder the care for their adult children with conditions such as autism, he said.

“People with disabilities are very scared,” Heaphy told the Banner.

While some organizations, such as Boston Medical Center, provide care regardless of insurance status, they likely will become overburdened as people losing their coverage flood in, Latia Holmes, BMC health worker, told the Banner.

Last week, Republicans in the U.S. Senate initiated repeal of the ACA and voted down many amendments, including ones that would have prevented any ACA replacement from reducing coverage to children or people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Last Thursday, Governor Charlie Baker sent a letter to the Senate majority leader, in which he spoke of the importance to the state of widespread health coverage and sought to retain ACA elements such as coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

Trump’s picks

As Donald Trump’s inauguration looms, questions continue to be raised over his selections for key roles. HUD secretary nominee Ben Carson would be charged with providing aid to struggling renters and homeowners, yet his questioning of the value and need for federal aid seems at odds with the department’s mission. Carson famously said during an interview that, “Poverty is really more of a choice than anything else.”

Trump’s labor secretary pick, Andrew Puzder, would be charged with overseeing investigations into violations of laws on minimum wage, overtime and worker safety. Puzder, who is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company behind fast food franchises Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., opposes an Obama administration proposal that would make parent companies legally liable for labor law violations committed by their franchisees or hired contractors.

Puzder also disagrees with many employee protections put forth by the Obama administration, such as efforts to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 and the recent federal law expanding overtime pay eligibility. He has said that mandatory paid sick leave laws, the Affordable Care Act and raises to the minimum wage burden restaurants’ bottom lines and force them to rely on automated technology.

Civil rights groups have railed against Jeff Sessions, Trump’s selection for attorney general. The ACLU website lists a plethora of racism allegations against Sessions and notes that his one-time nomination to the Senate Judiciary Committee was rejected following opposition from a civil rights coalition of 160 groups.

Conflicts of interest

Trump’s business holdings pose tremendous potential conflicts of interest. It would be easy for policies proposed by Trump to appear motivated by a desire to protect and advance his businesses, not the public interest. Additionally, concerns have been aired that those seeking to curry favor with the White House may try to do so through deals with Trump’s businesses or by patronizing his hotels.

On Wednesday last week, federal ethics officials criticized Trump’s plans for maintaining a financial stake in his international real estate and branding enterprises.

Walter Shaub, head of the Office of Government Ethics, advised Trump to divest his business interests and place his holdings either into diversified mutual funds and treasury bonds or into a blind trust.

Trump, however, stated that he will place his business assets into a trust managed by his sons Donald and Eric. It will not be blind, but his lawyer Sheri Dillon said Trump promised not to discuss the company with his sons. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, whose husband will become senior adviser to the new president, also will not participate in the business.

Additionally, the Trump Organization only will pursue new business domestically, Dillon said. The Trumps will hire an ethics adviser to keep the company on track — although some have said choosing one’s own ethics advisers defeats the purpose.

“The plan the president has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met,” Shaub said in a news conference, according to USA Today.

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