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Nearly 50 arrested on Capitol Hill demanding answers on Obamacare repeal

The protesters came from across the country as Congress prepares to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Protesters line the halls of the Dirksen Senate Office building. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
Protesters line the halls of the Dirksen Senate Office building. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group of more than 100 protesters representing 20 different states descended on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning to demand transparency from lawmakers about their plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The action was organized by Protect Our Care, a coalition of health care workers and civil rights groups.

After marching from congressional office to congressional office, confronting Senate staff members and asking what Congress plans to do in the weeks ahead, dozens of people staged a sit-in outside the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has for years pushed for the law’s repeal.

Asked by McClatchy why he did not meet with the group, which included Utah constituents, Hatch replied: “You don’t want to spend time with people who are just there to cause trouble.”

Forty-seven people intentionally blocking the hallway outside Hatch’s office were arrested by the Capitol Police, handcuffed one-by-one, and marched out of the building. Among them was Scott Fines from Columbia, Missouri, who told ThinkProgress that it was his first ever act of civil disobedience. Fines is the father of two-year-old born with esophageal atresia — meaning his mouth is not connected to his stomach — and came to D.C. to tell lawmakers that their repeal plans would put his son’s life at risk.

“Without health insurance, he would die.”

“Without health insurance, he would die, and without the ACA we would not be able to get him insurance,” Fines said. “He cost $750,000 dollars in his first five months of life. There’s no way an insurance company is ever going agree to cover a child like him. He is a walking pre-existing condition.”

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Before the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, health insurance companies could deny coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition: anything from an illness to a pregnancy to a birth defect. Companies could also charge such patients astronomical rates for coverage. The health care reform law, also known as Obamacare, now requires companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and provides subsidies to low-income individuals to help them buy insurance.

As he prepared to visit lawmaker offices on Tuesday, Pines showed ThinkProgress a packet of stories he had collected in his community, from people with serious health conditions who were denied insurance before the passage of the Affordable Care Act and now fear its repeal.

“If you read them, your heart will tear out of your chest,” he said. “These are the people that repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill. It won’t hurt them. It will kill them.”

Behind closed doors, in a recording leaked to the Washington Post, Republican lawmakers have admitted to having no firm plan to replace Obamacare, and have expressed fears that the GOP’s current proposals would raise taxes, create chaos in the health care market, and throw up to 18 million people off their insurance plans. But in public, Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders have confidently insisted that they will quickly move to repeal President Obama’s health care reform law and replace it with “something better.”

Fines said he is not convinced. “I’m from the ‘Show Me’ state,” he said, referring to Missouri’s motto. “I’ll believe it when they show me.”

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Republicans have already voted, in early January, to put the repeal process in motion. While they have the numbers to complete the repeal along strictly party lines, they would need to convince some Democrats to join them in order to pass a replacement plan.

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Republican lawmakers have introduced competing plans over the last couple weeks that could determine the fate of the country’s health care markets. One bill, the Patient Freedom Act, would allow states to choose from one of three options: keep Obamacare and its individual mandates, tax credits, and Medicaid expansions intact; switch to a yet-to-be-determined “market-based” system; or go without any kind of federal assistance health care assistance. Another bill, the Obamacare Replacement Act, would repeal the law’s individual mandate and allow insurance companies to offer cheap plans that don’t cover the essential forms of care.

Chanting, “We who believe in health care shall not rest,” the group of protesters marched to the offices of Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Steve Daines (R-MT). At each office, constituents of each lawmaker stepped forward to explain how the Affordable Care Act impacts their life. All offices refused to meet with the group.

“Health care is a human right.”

Tonia McMillan, a child care provider in Los Angeles, told ThinkProgress she flew across the country to participate in the action because she fears returning to what she experienced before the implementation of Obamacare.

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“I have a thyroid condition,” she explained. “And before the ACA was passed, I worked every day and paid taxes, but I could not afford insurance. Who can afford $600 dollars a month? So I would sign up for health care with different companies, stay on it long enough to see a doctor, get a prescription, fill it, and then drop it.”

McMillan said that while the Affordable Care Act was a “godsend” that allowed her to maintain health coverage, she is still paying off medical debt from hospital visits many years ago.

“Obamacare saved my life,” she said. “So I’m here to say: don’t repeal it. I need it to live. But it’s not just about me. Health care is a human right.”

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