Popular resistance to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act has begun, with the first signal that Republicans could face major political repercussions coming from the large Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado.
Congressman Mike Coffman, a Republican who represents the swing district there, planned a small event at a library to meet with constituents. He expected just a handful of people, but 150 individuals showed up. Most of them, according to local media reports, were present to plead with him not to go forward with an Obamacare repeal without a suitable replacement in place.
Coffman decided to let only four people into the room at a time, yielding images on social media that looked like this:
The local NBC 9 News report on the event was brutal for Coffman from start to finish, highlighting Berthie Ruoff, a breast cancer survivor who is worried she will be unable to buy insurance without the law’s protections.
“I’m going to potentially lose my health insurance. I’ve had a pre-existing condition, I’ve had breast cancer. What is going to happen to me?” she said with tears in her eyes.
With the help of local police, who put up caution tape near a side entrance, Coffman left the building minutes before the town hall meeting was scheduled to end.
“We were told at one point, everyone will get their time. And then he sneaks out six minutes early,” a woman at the meeting told NBC 9.
Coffman claimed in a statement to NBC 9 that he was limited by his reservation at the library.
“Unfortunately, we only reserved the room at the Aurora Central Library for 90 minutes, which is usually plenty of time to see everyone,” he said. “For those who were unable to see the congressman today, we apologize.”
Meanwhile, Coffman appears to be resolute in his commitment to repealing the landmark law. He penned an op-ed with the three other House Republicans from Colorado insisting that “full repeal” is the only way to solve the country’s health care problems. And the American Action Network, a conservative political action committee with ties to congressional GOP leadership, has announced it will spend $1.4 million on advertisements touting the Republicans’ plan to replace Obamacare in several Republican congressional districts, including Coffman’s.
The problem for Republicans is that their main objections to the ACA ― that deductibles and premiums are too high and networks are too narrow ― can really only be solved by a combination of reducing the growth of costs and providing further subsidies for coverage. Republicans in general have shown little willingness to spend more to help people pay for health care, but have instead argued that rolling back insurance regulations and unleashing the free market will do the trick. Without significant subsidies, though, the industry has no way of covering those with pre-existing conditions, which Republicans have promised any replacement will do.
Many Republicans have also promised that people with pre-existing conditions, such as Berthie Ruoff, will still be able to purchase insurance once the law is overturned. But the ACA ended the past practice of discrimination based on medical history in part by enacting the individual mandate, which ensures that the insurance companies would get new customers to offset the cost of the sicker people it would have to cover. Republicans are dead set on repealing the individual mandate, which they view as government overreach.
The pushback in Aurora suggests Republicans may be in for a world of political pain as they push forward with repeal. It recalls a few other popular uprisings against Washington, all of them triggered by congressional efforts to make big changes to health care and entitlement programs. In the summer of 2009, hundreds of thousands of people swarmed town halls in opposition to Obamacare. In 2005, the nation loudly pushed back against GOP attempts to cut or privatize Social Security, contributing to the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006. In 1993, when President Bill Clinton tried to rewrite the rules for the health care system, the insurance industry was able to exploit popular fears of change and scuttle the effort. The failure contributed to the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994.
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What should Congress do? If you think the Affordable Care Act should be repaired rather than repealed, sign and amend this open letter to Congress. If you think it needs to be repealed immediately, sign this version of it.