By: John Tomasic, The Colorado Statesman
In the wake of a presidential executive order that this past weekend spurred historic airport protests, which followed on historic post-inauguration street protests the weekend before, supporters of the Affordable Care Act and the Colorado Obamacare health insurance marketplace gathered Tuesday on the west steps of the Capitol in Denver.
The crowd— some 300 people rallied in part by a coalition of progressive groups — spilled beyond the building’s stone walkways onto pale winter lawns, hailing speakers who told stories of the life-saving and life-changing coverage brought by the expanded health care programs.
The plan was to build momentum before a state Senate committee was scheduled to consider a bill introduced by Parker Republican Sen. Jim Smallwood. His Senate Bill 3 aims to repeal the Connect for Health online state health insurance exchange. Smallwood has pitched the bill as a cost-saving measure, but the partisan politics around health care and the fear on the ground prompted by the prospect of more than 400,000 Coloradans losing hard-won reliable coverage has placed the bill at the center of a political storm even before it has met its first official legislative hurdle.
State Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman kicked off the protest.
“We [Democrats] may be down by one vote in the Senate, but with you all here today, we’ve taken back the majority,” she joked, flanked by members of her caucus and protesters holding signs. “We’re going to fight and fight and fight.”
“You’ve all heard it,” Guzman said, “Let’s be clear again: Health care is a right, not a privilege. More than 20 million people here in America have been added to the list of those with health care insurance thanks to Obamacare — that is a wonderful word isn’t it, Obamacare?” The crowd roared. “People are covered for pre-existing conditions, for diabetes, cancer, MS, and so much more. They can not be denied health care and we are not going to let that happen again. Not going to happen.”
“I’m sure there are a lot of people inside the building who are shocked by how many of you are out here,” she said.
Guzman was followed at the microphone by Coloradans who told their own health care stories — moving accounts of sudden-onset debilitating disease, of the humiliating and enraging battles waged by sick people to win coverage before the Affordable Care Act passed, of harrowing accidents that would have ended in death and bankruptcy if not for the insurance provided through the Obamacare exchanges.
If there were any doubt before, it’s clear Republicans in Washington and Denver will not have an easy time steering national health care policy in the Trump years.
When anti-Obama tea party protest crowds began assembling in 2009, it quickly became clear to observers all along the political spectrum that the anger and disillusionment and fear fueling the protests were sincerely felt and tied to a desperateness at the center of the movement — a place where a suddenly palpable loss of control thrummed close to the surface and a cherished story of America seemed to be running away fast in the wrong direction.
The tea party movement altered Republican Party politics and likely laid the ground for the supremacy the party now enjoys in Washington.
But, not two weeks into the Trump era, the tea party era suddenly seems a long way in the past.
“Don’t make Colorado sick again,” read one sign. “Without the ACA, my wife would be dead,” read another. “We want universal health care (just like Congress has),” read another. There were a lot of them.
Amanda Miller and her husband bought insurance on one of the Obamacare exchanges to cover themselves for a couple of months between jobs.
“We debated what to do. It wouldn’t have been that big of a penalty for us not to buy insurance, but we were 28, 29, healthy, we decided it was our right and responsibility to get health insurance.”
It turned out to be one of the best decisions of her life.
On an interstate in Pennsylvania weeks after they bought insurance, their car rolled after being clipped by a weaving double semi tractor-trailer. The car flipped into the air as it careened off the road, banging the roof each time it spun, until it landed beyond the shoulder. Miller and her husband looked at each other when the movement stopped.
“I’m not sure what he saw,” she said, “but what I saw was his skull. The vast majority of his scalp was hanging from his head… The blood pool was deep enough that the charging cable that had fallen into it was completely submerged.
“He’s okay now. He’s standing back there somewhere,” Miller said, motioning into the crowd to claps and howls. “But the kind of care he got isn’t cheap. The insurance we got covered it. When a $16,000 bill came back paid in full, I started crying. We would have had no way to pay those bills.”
“The reason I’m here today is because, if those exchanges are repealed, everyone who is on them is left at the mercy of a Congress that wants to take away their health care,” Miller said. “Nobody should ever be kneeling on the side of the road watching somebody they love bleeding out and have to wonder ‘How am I going to pay for this?’”
Turned out, the hearing for Smallwood’s bill was postponed, which means there will be another opportunity for the crowd to protest at the Capitol.