Big crowd sends message to congressman: Keep our insurance

Big crowd sends message to congressman: Keep our insurance
One after another they took the microphone Saturday in Oakland, some having stood in line an hour or longer to tell their congressman how they felt about health insurance, and about the prospect of losing it. Wilkinsburg resident Paula Day, who has a son that relies on mental health care, voices her concerns at the health care town hall meeting. (Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette)
There was the woman diagnosed years ago with cancer and the man dealing with severe asthma. Another woman told the audience numbering 1,200 in Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum how she was able, at last, to get mental health coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Of all the speakers, though, few seemed to fight harder through emotion to get the words out than Delores Johnson, 40, of Glassport, who came to the congressional town hall meeting with her 2 sons, ages 10 and 22 months, both of whom have severe hemophilia.
The injections they require every few days cost thousands of dollars weekly, enough to overwhelm her finances. “I lost my house,’” she told the crowd and the session’s host, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, her voice at times wavering.
Passage of what became known as Obamacare made those treatments financially manageable, she said. But with the Republican-controlled Congress moving to repeal the law, she now fears the worst.
“I don’t want to start over with nothing,” she said. “I need this.”
The 2 p.m. session to enable constituents to vent about the proposed Obamacare replacement was supposed to run 2 hours but instead spanned more than 3. Some were in wheelchairs and brought small American flags. There were scattered signs, including one on a seat that accused President Donald Trump of lying to seniors.
Community members attend the health care town hall meeting in Oakland. (Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette)
Mr. Doyle and others on stage warned of huge Medicaid cuts under the legislation and of higher rates — 5 times as much — for older adults, something they called an age tax. A man in the audience hoisted above his shoulders a sign repeating a Congressional Budget Office assessment that ultimately 24 million Americans could lose coverage under the current legislation.
“The bottom line is this is a bad bill,” Mr. Doyle said. “This hurts some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
He called it “survival of the fittest health care.” It’s fine for the young and healthy, but otherwise, he said, “Tough luck.”
Among those on stage was Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller, who said under the Affordable Care Act the uninsured rate in Pennsylvania fell to 6.4 percent. “That’s the lowest it’s ever been.”
Representatives of Pennsylvania AARP also spoke.
The crowd was vocal but orderly, at times cutting in their description of those in power comfortable with leaving the public — in particular, the elderly — to fend for themselves in a health system as confusing as it is costly. Darwin Leuba, 18, of O’;Hara, wore a chicken costume and a T-shirt labeled “Chicken Keith Rothfus” at the town hall meeting. Leuba asked Doyle: “Why do you think your colleague, Representative Keith Rothfus, is such a chicken and won’;t go to a town hall?” (Haley Nelson/Post-Gazette)
“As if they don’t have enough stress and haven’t worked hard enough in life to deserve the care they get,” one speaker said.
Damitra Penny, 49, of the Hill District, said she is in a wheelchair but can be at home given the current support system she has but fears the law change might endanger that if her health worsens. “My biggest concern is being in a nursing home.”
Lenore Wossidlo, 58, of Swissvale, brought with her to the microphone a picture of her son, Karl Joseph, diagnosed with autism as a small child. Medicaid provided in-home support, speech and other instruction that helped him become a productive adult who works and volunteers.
She said it’s those very services that are on the chopping block, the ones that did for her son what she and her husband by themselves could not, even though they both worked 3 jobs.
Her message to Congressional leaders: “If it was your child or your relative, what would you do? Can you honestly say you would cut these services?”
Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-253-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG