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Rally: Obamacare repeal would ‘make America sick again’

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Warren — Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would affect hundreds of thousands of Michiganians and must not be allowed to proceed, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a Democratic congressional leader and many of Michigan’s Democratic congressional delegation told thousands gathered for a healthcare rally Sunday.

The thousands converged on the campus of Macomb Community College in Warren to oppose the agenda of President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to overturn and replace the Affordable Care Act, and the Republican-controlled Congress which, in its first week back in session, has started the process to repeal the six-year-old health care law known as Obamacare.

Lawmakers, from left, Sens. Gary Peters, Debbie Stabenow, Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders at a Sunday rally in Warren.

About 20 minutes before the rally began, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters ducked behind a guardrail separating the crowd and the news media — an area that soon was packed with rally goers as the parking lot started to fill. As he passed, people in the crowd noticed Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and urged him to oppose Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

“Filibuster! Filibuster! Filibuster!” a man chanted, joined by the people near him as they noticed at whom he was chanting.

During the “Save Our Health Care” rally, the discussion of Cabinet picks highlighted the numerous fronts Democrats in Congress and their supporters say they will have to fight after Trump is inaugurated Friday as the 45th president.

How many Michiganians would be affected by the repeal of Obamacare varied from speaker to speaker, ranging from just more than 600,000, a figure cited by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, to about 2 million, a number encompassing “all aspects” of the law, according to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

The law has delivered health coverage to about 20 million people but is saddled with problems such as rapidly rising premiums and large co-payments.

Britt Waligorski, 31, a health care administrator for a dental practice, said she didn’t get health insurance through work but has been covered through the health law for three years. While the premiums have gone up, she said she is concerned that services for women will be taken away if it is repealed.

“It’s done a lot for women for their annual checkups, for mammograms — women’s health in general. If this gets repealed, we’re going to go back to the old days when that’s not covered,” she said.

“They just want to rip health care away and create chaos for everyone,” Stabenow said of Republicans in Congress.

“If (Republicans) want to rip health care a part, they can do that.”

The only thing that could outweigh the power imbalance, Stabenow argued, is intensity. “The truth is, we have the power — if we use our voices.”

Lisa Bible, 55, of Bancroft said she has an autoimmune disease and high cholesterol. She said the existing law has been an answer to her and her husband’s prayers, but she worries that if it’s repealed her family may get stuck with her medical bills.

Sanders, a strong supporter of the law who challenged Hillary Clinton last year for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, was the star. He drew the loudest cheers and the crowd broke out in brief “Bernie!” chants every time his name was mentioned.

“We’re the wealthiest country in the history of the world, but we’ve got our priorities wrong,” Sanders told the crowd.

But the goal is not simply to play defense, Sanders said. “Our job today is to defend the Affordable Care Act. Our job tomorrow is to create a single-payer system,” he said.

He said to the extent Republicans are interested in improving the health care law, “let’s work together.”

“But if you think you’re going to repeal it with nothing to replace it, you’ve got another guess coming,” he said.

Though 70 similar rallies were being held Sunday “from Maine to California,” as Sanders said, he and other elected officials stressed the rallies were intended as the start of the resistance, not its totality. Police estimated about 600 people showed up in Portland, Maine. Hundreds also attended events in Newark, New Jersey, Johnston, Rhode Island, Richmond, Virginia and Boston.

The rallies coincide with the weekend in which the nation is oberserving the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

One name that never came up: President Barack Obama, whose election in 2008 was thought to be the fulfillment of King’s famous “dream.” The Affordable Care Act is known colloquially as “Obamacare,” which the president himself came to embrace. But with less than a week of his two term tenure as president left, his name was never spoken.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is shocking and inhumane,” said Rep. John Conyers of Detroit in quoting King.

Conyers, who is considered the dean of the House, said he is setting his sights beyond mere defense of the ACA and said the ultimate goal is a single-payer “everybody in, nobody out” system.

“If Donald Trump thinks he’s going to repeal the ACA, he’s got a fight on his hands,” he said.

Republicans want to end the fines that enforce the requirement that many individuals buy health care coverage and that larger companies provide it to workers.

But they face internal disagreements on how to pay for any replacement and how to protect consumers and insurers during a long phase-in of an alternative.

Mark Heller, 45, a civil rights, immigration and labor attorney who drove to the Michigan event from Toledo, Ohio, said that stopping Republicans from repealing the law may take more than attending rallies.

“I think that it’s going to take civil disobedience to turn this around because they have the votes in both the Senate and the House, and the president,” he said.

Some Republicans have urged a slower approach that ensures a replacement is ready if the law is repealed.

Repeal would “Make America sick again,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Schumer described life before the Affordable Care Act: “Women paid more for health care than men, pre-existing conditions weren’t covered, and insurance companies could do anything they wanted — and did.”

Rep. Sandy Levin of Royal Oak stated the issue in stark terms: “Keep us alive! Keep our health care!”

Levin urged the crowd to “turn your anguish about the Nov. 8 election into action today, tomorrow and the next four years.”

Mary Reynolds-Tharp of Clarkston said she plans to do just that. The health care worker wore a pink hat over her dyed pink hair, symbols of the Women’s March on Washington scheduled this week after Trump is sworn in, and which she plans to attend.

“I’m concerned about the loss of life and health care for fellow Americans,” Reynolds-Tharp said after the rally, “but also about the loss of jobs for health care workers affected by any change.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.