The event in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring was billed as a public forum on Medicaid in the state of Maryland.
But with Republicans just 10 miles away in the U.S. Senate working to undo Obamacare, it more closely resembled a campaign rally for the resistance. Religious, medical and political leaders took turns at a lectern, urging residents to fight the bill known as Graham-Cassidy, and teary-eyed Medicaid beneficiaries told their stories.
U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) denounced the latest Republican effort to gut the federal Affordable Care Act, calling it “Trumpcare” and a “mutating monstrosity” like the final scene in the horror movie “Carrie,” in which a “bloody hand emerges from the ground again.”
“Stay in your seats, don’t leave until this movie is over,” Raskin told the crowd of about 100 at the Silver Spring Civic Center, noting that if the Senate passes the Cassidy-Graham bill by its Sept. 30 deadline, the next stop will be the House.
Over the summer, the House passed a different GOP health-care bill, despite defections of moderates such as Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.). She has not publicly stated her position on the Cassidy-Graham measure.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced his opposition to the legislation Tuesday, as did a bipartisan group of governors from 10 states, including Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican member of Maryland’s eight-person delegation, said through a spokeswoman that he supports the Graham-Cassidy.
Before the audience in Silver Spring, Raskin asked who was unaware of the bill’s provisions, and about half of the attendees raised their hands.
“That’s the way they designed it,” he said. “They don’t want anybody to know about it.”
As Raskin explained that the bill would roll back Medicaid expansion and replace it with a block grant, give states permission to erase preexisting-condition requirements and institute lifetime limits on coverage, a woman said aloud, “Oh no.”
Uma Ahluwalia, director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said the Obama-era Affordable Care Act helped reduce the county’s uninsured population from 11.5 percent to 5.7 percent, and insured about 62,000 residents.
“Medicaid expansion has been an absolute gift to those in Maryland and for us in Montgomery County,” she said.
Alvin T. Butler Sr., 62, of Bowie, Md., said he went without health care for the first time in 45 years last spring when his wife lost her job at Whole Foods.
They signed up for insurance through Maryland’s exchange and paid a low premium they could afford. Soon after that, he began experiencing shortness of breath. His doctor immediately sent him to a cardiologist, who in turn sent him to the emergency room.
Before he knew it, he was at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for a triple bypass.
“If I didn’t have insurance, there’s no way I would have gone to the doctor for it,” Butler said. “We couldn’t afford it. . . . If sharing my story can help save the Maryland health-care system, it is the least I can do for the program that saved me.”
The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, senior minister of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, said that on his drive to the forum, he heard a story on public radio about how Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) hatched the current bill while getting haircuts in the Capitol barbershop. The crowd groaned.
“Health care is a fundamental human right,” he said, prompting applause. He beckoned the audience to repeat those words back to him.
“We need to be rising up again and again and again to make sure once again this cynical attempt is not only thwarted but put to bed,” he said.