On Thursday night, approximately 50 Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor residents gathered outside the Federal Building on East Liberty Street to rally against the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and promote single-payer health care. The rally and vigil was organized by the Huron Valley Democratic Socialists of America and We the People of Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor.
The Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, was signed by former President Barack Obama in 2010 to make health care more affordable, expand Medicaid, which helps underprivileged people pay for medical care and lowers the cost of health care in general. The fate of the American Health Care Act of 2017, created by Republican legislators and often referred to as Trumpcare, threatens to repeal the Affordable Care Act if it passes the Senate. It passed the House of Representatives in early May.
Phil Bianco, a co-chair of Huron Valley Democratic Socialists of America, was one of the event organizers.
“We’re out here today not only to resist Trump’s AHCA — the American Health Care Act — but we’re also here to push for single-payer because that’s really the next step, and we’re here to continue to the movement for that,” he said.
Single-payer health care, also referred to as “Medicare for all,” refers to a system in which everyone is covered.
Bianco said the rally in Ann Arbor is part of a larger national initiative. Democratic Socialists of America are part of a larger coalition, he explained, that is organizing sit-ins across the country, mostly at Republican senators’ offices. Since there isn’t a Republican senator in Michigan, the local groups decided to host a rally and vigil in Ann Arbor.
“The movement is basically to stop these Republican senators from pushing their eliminationist bill and to push politicians in general to support a single-payer system,” Bianco said.
Emily Sippola, who helped organize the event on behalf of We the People, explained there are many negative repercussions to repealing the ACA.
“There are a few people who see some benefit to a repeal of the ACA, but I think most of those people are being pretty short-sighted,” she said. “At this point, it would make access to health care far more challenging for people with pre-existing conditions, for women it would defund Planned Parenthood. Many, many people would suffer. The current estimate is that 29,000 people each year would die as a result of the current bill.”
Sippola said now is the time to act, noting the Senate delayed the vote on the bill until after July 4.
“Today is because there’s a lot of urgency around this particular legislation, and we need to get moving, we need to push back as much as we can,” she said. “The good news is there is a lot of resistance, there is a lot of pushback, and it doesn’t look at this point like it’s likely to pass, but that doesn’t mean we can let up the pressure at this point.”
Sippola is a breast cancer survivor and has an inflammatory disease. She said without the ACA, her chances of dying in the next ten years double.
“I feel a lot of urgency, especially because I have minor children, and I wanted to do something here,” she said. “I wanted to stand up in this community and make it clear that it’s not just about Planned Parenthood — although that is certainly important — it’s also about people’s lives. It’s about the children, it’s about people in racial and sexual minorities. It’s a really, really big deal.”
During the event, several predesignated speakers, followed by an opportunity for general attendees to address the group, discussed why they feel the ACA is necessary. Many speakers explained why the bill affects them or their work personally.
Attendees held signs that read, “Expand Medicare, don’t destroy it” and “We demand universal health care,” among others. They were also given the option to write a message or name on a white paper bag in honor of those they know who are at risk of losing their access to health care under the bill. Organizers also provided white slips of paper for attendees to write a thought or fear about the proposed bill.
Perry Francis, an Ypsilanti resident and a mental health provider at Eastern Michigan University who helps people confront mental illnesses, was one of the speakers at the event.
“The ACA made mental health care a requirement of all insurance,” he said. “Do you know why? Because with good mental health care we can deal with … the stresses and strains of life — those issues that cause mental health to break down. One of the things that we know about mental health is that if we can help somebody deal, cope, handle those things that cause them the most trouble, their health, their physical health, improves. If their physical health improves, they don’t need as much medical care and we lower prices.”
Francis explained the AHCA allows states to choose what they’re going to require of their state Medicaid.
“So if they want to lower mental health care, they’ll do that, if they want to lower surgery care, they’ll do that,” he said. “Why? Because (the states) want to give people choice, but think about that choice for a moment. I have to choose between a bag of groceries and a health insurance payment. And to see that payment rise far beyond my reach, then have that stress begin to take a look at your mental health care and then to have that stress deal with your physical care. And what do we do? We have a strong decline and a worsening of care and health for the American people.
Francis related the situation to donating blood to others if needed, something he said he does every 112 days.
“Isn’t that the American way?” he said. “That we come together as a people to help each other out, to ensure that everybody can gain access to something that I take for granted, that you can have the same health care as me and that that health care is comprehensive, including mental health care, including maternity care, if you need it, geriatric care as you need it, palliative care, as you need it, hospice care, as you need it.”
Sonja Greenfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner who used to work with children who have cancer, also addressed the crowd.
Greenfield said care for a baby in a neonatal intensive care unit can cost over $500,000.
“Mom doesn’t need to think about insurance while she’s wondering how her baby is doing, while she’s standing there watching him grow and thrive,” she said. “She doesn’t need to worry about that. She doesn’t need to think about anything else. Insurance is something that should be for all people and I don’t understand why our current administration feels that we are … not deserving.”
Greenfield said legislators need to understand that children and adults with pre-existing conditions are just like everyone else in terms of the health care they deserve.
“As a nurse, I see somebody with a pre-existing condition, I see somebody with AIDs, I see somebody who has fought cancer, I see somebody who is homeless, I see a woman who has had an abortion, and I say, ‘That’s okay, I’m still going to take care of you, because that’s what I’m here to do,’” she said.
She said people must educate the officials they elect, because these leaders do not always know the struggles faced by citizens.
“Understand and make it known that health care is a right, it is not a privilege, it will never be a privilege,” she said. “We need to make sure that we are fighting and that we are educating our elected officials, because honestly they don’t know, they don’t know what we’re going through. They don’t understand it. They need to see us struggling. They need to see us, they need to put faces to names, they need to humanize our struggle.”
Local resident Renee Bradford said she came to the rally for her son.
“My son has Type I, and he needs health care, and Trump’s going to take away that health care,” she said. “I’m here to protect my son and my family and everybody else that needs health care.”
Hunter Wyand, an organizer with Democratic Socialists of America, said health care should be a human right.
“This issue is important to me just because I am a human being,” he said. “Fundamentally, that is the question we’re asking — does a human being have a right to health care? I think, absolutely yes, a human being has a right to health care. I’m out here because I think it’s a right. There’s people in Congress who disagree and those people need to be stopped.”
Wyand said he has seen a lot of Democrats in the past couple years who define themselves by their opposition to the Trump agenda, which he does not think is right.
“The reason we have a big turnout today is because we’re pushing a bold vision for what American can be,” he said.