Courtney, local groups urge residents to push back against ACA repeal

Norwich — In a call to action against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a coalition of health care advocacy groups and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, met with about 100 local residents to answer questions and urge them to become activists.

“The only way we’re going to change this is through agitation,” Harry Rodriguez, president of the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital health care workers union and a member of the coalition, told a standing-room only crowd at the Rose City Senior Center on Wednesday. “Today the Republicans want to fix health care by taking it away from us. How much sense does that make?”

As Congressional Republicans began meeting in Philadelphia to craft a plan to repeal and replace the 2010 federal law known as Obamacare, Courtney urged the audience to employ the power of public outcry about the possible impact on 30 million people who could lose their coverage. Phone calls to Congress are the most effective tool, he said, more so than letters and emails. He especially urged doctors, nurses and other health workers to speak out about their firsthand experiences caring for people newly covered under the ACA, calling their input into the debate “gold plated.”

“Health care affects everybody,” Courtney said. “If you have stories to tell, we really want people to come forward. At the end of the day, external pressure still matters.”

One such story was told by Jennifer Blanchette of Sprague, a 21-year-old college student who has three serious chronic conditions. She has health insurance coverage through her parents because of the Affordable Care Act, she said, adding that without it, “I would not be here, or I would be in extreme debt.”

In Connecticut, 110,000 people have private health insurance through Access Health CT, the state-run marketplace developed in response to the ACA. About 80 percent of them receive federal subsidies that offset the premium costs. Another 200,000 residents now are covered through an expansion of Medicaid that also was made possible by the ACA.

In a Jan. 6 letter to House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said “millions of families will suffer” if the act is repealed without an adequate substitute.

“I urge you to build on the progress of the ACA,” Malloy wrote, noting that the state’s uninsured rate has fallen from 8 percent in 2013 to an all-time low of 3.8 percent currently. “I have grave concerns that a full-blown and rash repeal will seriously disrupt the insurance market, hurting consumers and our economy.”

Vicki Veltri, chief health policy adviser to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, said uncertainty about the future of the ACA “is potentially disruptive, and causes anxiety for people” who depend on the provisions of the law. Without the $1.3 billion in federal dollars to pay for the Medicaid expansion and premium subsidies, she said, the state could not afford to provide the Access Health CT health insurance program to residents.

She said even with the executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Friday to undo parts of the law, residents who sign up for coverage through the state exchange by Jan. 30 will be covered for the rest of 2017. But after that, the future is uncertain. The state, she said, is committed “to do what it can” to protect the health care of its residents.

Audience members asked questions about many of the details of the possible repeal, but no one spoke in favor of repealing the act.

Courtney and others acknowledged the ACA needs improvements to make insurance more affordable to small businesses and bring drug costs down, among other adjustments, but getting rid of it altogether would be “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

The act, Courtney said, has benefited not only those newly insured, but also those with insurance through their employers because of provisions that allow young adults to be covered under their parents' policies until age 26, ban lifetime caps on coverage and prohibit refusal of coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

Jen Ezzell of Lisbon urged Courtney to meet with a group of local doctors to hear their ideas about how to improve the act.

“They may have solutions,” she said. “And please, don’t let whatever plan is hatched reach over 2,000 pages.”

Jennifer Granger, president and chief executive officer of United Community & Family Services, noted that the act also has expanded funding for community health centers like UCFS, making primary care more accessible to thousands of people.

At the end of the meeting, people were asked to fill out cards pledging to “join the fight to protect health care.”

“Talk to your friends and family, come to a rally, make a phone call,” said Lisa D’Abrosca, president of the registered nurses’ union at L+M and a coalition member. “The power is in your hands.”

j.benson@theday.com

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