As Republican lawmakers look to undo it, Democratic U.S. Reps. Tom Suozzi and Kathleen Rice encouraged supporters on Sunday to share personal stories of how the Affordable Care Act has improved their lives.
Lawmakers, political activists and people who have benefited from President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law told a crowd of more than 1,000 in Westbury that repealing the law without replacing it would endanger millions of lives and potentially damage the economy.
“We’re going to continue to bring stories out to the public to remind everyone in Washington that repeal and replace is not just a catchy slogan, that it has life and death consequences,” said Rice, a second-term representative from Garden City.
Sunday’s rally at the “Yes We Can” Community Center was among dozens around the country organized by Democratic lawmakers on a “national day of action” to defend the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, after Republicans in Congress took steps to repeal it last week as President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration approaches.
Hundreds of supporters and volunteers from Planned Parenthood of Nassau County were in the crowd, along with members of major healthcare labor unions, including Service Employees International Union 1199 and the New York State Nurses Association.
Suozzi, Rice and other speakers emphasized that more than 20 million people insured through the Affordable Care Act’s public health care exchanges would lose coverage.
Eliminating protections against discrimination based on gender or pre-existing conditions would hurt some 75 million more, Suozzi said.
Ron Motta of Huntington said the talk of repealing the law has worried his 11-year-old son, Robbie, who was born with a congenital heart defect that will require medical attention for the rest of his life.
Insurance companies could refuse to cover Robbie later in his life if the ban on discriminating based on pre-existing conditions were to disappear, Ron Motta said.
“Can you imagine having to answer questions from an 11-year-old boy such as, ‘Dad, will I be able to get health insurance when I grow up? Dad, will I be able to pay for it? What if I need an operation?’” Motta told the crowd. “These are not questions children should even be thinking about, let alone asking.”
Hospitals across the country would lose billions of dollars in subsidies with repeal, potentially killing millions of health care industry jobs, Suozzi said.
Long Island’s economy could feel those effects. Hospitals and health care services accounted for more than 142,500 of the 1.2 million jobs in Long Island’s significant industries in 2014, according to state labor data.
Leading the crowd in chants of “mend it, don’t end it,” Suozzi conceded the Affordable Care Act has problems, but said it needs careful reforms to further its goal of making health care more affordable.
“If the president really wants to try and reduce the cost of health care in the United States of America, OK, let’s do that, but let’s not play these simplistic political games,” he said.
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both approved a bill last week to prevent Senate Democrats from stalling an Affordable Care Act repeal with a filibuster.
Republican lawmakers disagree over how and when to replace the law, but many reportedly favor keeping provisions banning discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and other protections.
Trump pledged a repeal in his presidential campaign, saying the law has driven up health care costs and limited consumers’ choices.
Suozzi drew boos at the rally when he said Trump’s success would benefit the nation as a whole and that Democrats’ challenge is to “listen to some of the things that he’s saying.”
About 35 members of Long Island Activists, an advocacy organization that started as a campaign supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, occasionally interrupted speakers with calls for a universal, single-payer health care system.
Some held signs that said “Single payer now.” Another said, “Repeal without replace is premeditated murder.”
Ron Widelec of Commack, a member of the group, said Democrats’ claims that health care is a “human right” would prove empty if they did not push for a universal system when the party regains control of Congress.
“We don’t pay for human rights. We don’t pay for the right to free speech,” Widelec said. “If health care’s a human right, we all pay for it, we all get it for free.”