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Congressional Democrats call on lawmakers to maintain Affordable Care Act

Reps. Velazquez, Maloney, Jeffries and Clarke Castigate Republican Colleagues’ Lack of Alternative at Woodhull MC Press Conference

January 9, 2017 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: U.S. Reps. Hakim Jeffries, Nydia Velazquez and Carolyn Maloney with District 53 Leader Tommy Torres. Eagle photo by Andy Katz

Standing beneath a projection that declared “The Republican Plan Will Make America Sick Again!” U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez opened the Jan. 7 press conference at Woodhull Medical Center with a reminder: “Access to health care is not a privilege; it’s a right!”

U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke and Carolyn Maloney joined Velazquez in the center’s auditorium, flanked by health care professionals and advocates for the elderly, many hefting signs calling for justice and fairness, for a press conference to demand that the incoming Republican Congress not repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare.”

“In a fog of misinformation directed at the American people,” Jeffries declared, “Republicans have engineered a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C.!”

Signed into law by President Barack Obama in March of 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has numerous provisions, some of which aren’t scheduled to go into effect until 2020. While some of its mandates, including compulsory states participation in Medicaid expansion have been struck down by the courts, most of its major provisions, including mandatory coverage, acceptance of pre-existing conditions and subsidies have survived legal challenges.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of persons without medical insurance fell from 16 percent in 2010 to 8.9 percent in 2016.

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Speakers repeatedly castigated congressional Republicans for seeking to dismantle the ACA without offering a viable alternative. “They have never, not once, put together a sensible alternative plan,” Velazquez declared.    

“There is no replacement plan,” Jeffries concurred, “the Republicans have put forth to replace all the wonderful things the ACA has done for the American people.”

Woodhull Medical Center head nurse Judith Cutchin and NY Nurses Association Treasurer Patricia Kane, on hand to lend their support, described the impact loss of ACA benefits would have on their patient population. “We have a lot of low-wage earners who’d be forced into medical indigence without the ACA,” Kane explained.

When asked which aspects of the ACA they considered most vital to maintaining quality of care at the center, both Cutchins and Kane exclaimed, “All of it!” without hesitation.

“Many women came to me who were pregnant,” Maloney told the audience, “and they were told that pregnancy is a pre-existing condition, and they couldn’t get health care or insurance. How horrible is that in a country that says they value children and value families?”

“Health insurance companies could charge women more than they could charge men,” said Clarke of circumstances that prevailed prior to the ACA. “In only a few years, more than 13 million Americans have obtained access to health insurance.”

Repeal of the ACA had been a key part of most Republican presidential candidates’ platform during the election, including that of President-elect Donald Trump. After meeting with Obama, however, Trump has suggested that he might maintain certain provisions, including coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“As a matter of fact, I have a copy of the Republicans’ plan right here,” Clarke continued, holding up a blank sheet of paper. Laughter and applause ensued.

“The untold story,” Clarke said later, “is that so much of the ACA was crafted with Republican input. But then they didn’t vote. They didn’t go on the record.”

Velazquez agreed: “It is the height of hypocrisy for them to say ‘we were not provided any opportunity to influence the law.’ No. They were at the table.”

“Most of it,” added Clarke, “is based on RomneyCare out of Massachusetts. This [push to repeal ACA] goes back to the Republicans’ mission that ‘we cannot permit this president to succeed at anything.’ To fiddle with the American people’s health,” she concluded, “I mean, how heartless can you be?”

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