New Jersey breast cancer survivor Barbara Blonsky on Tuesday delivered a petition with more than 34,000 signatures to the district office of her congressman, Rep. Tom MacArthur, the man most responsible for reviving the floundering GOP health care bill.
A moderate Republican, MacArthur sponsored a controversial amendment to the legislation that would make it easier for insurers to charge higher rates to people like Blonsky with a troubled medical history.
“Let’s kill this bill before it kills us,” says the online petition circulated by Blonsky, a member of People’s Action, a liberal Chicago-based advocacy organization with member groups across the country.
With a possible House vote this week on the GOP legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act, patient groups and health care advocates, including AARP, have launched a pressure campaign targeting moderate Republicans who hold Obamacare’s fate in their hands.
People’s Action will focus its efforts on Reps. Rob Wittman and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Reps. Dave Reichert of Washington, John Faso of New York and David Young of Iowa, among others.
The group is also urging health care activists in GOP districts to hold five “kitchen table conversations” with friends, neighbors and colleagues to inform them of the potential impact of the Republican measure, said LeeAnn Hall, the Seattle-based co-director of People’s Action.
These and other efforts aim to increase voter awareness and understanding of the complicated health care bill in lawmakers’ home districts – and to remind congressional Republicans that the 2018 elections aren’t far away.
“All politics is local. The best way to sway members is through their own constituents,” said Sue Nelson, vice president of federal advocacy at the American Heart Association.
The Republican legislation was pulled from the House floor for lack of support only minutes before a scheduled vote in March. It has been widely criticized for weakening consumer protections in the ACA, slashing funding for Medicaid and leaving 24 million people without health insurance by 2026.
It’s been a little bit difficult to get meetings right now. I think they’re being barraged by groups like ours.
Sue Nelson, vice president of federal advocacy at the American Heart Association
On Monday, 10 patient advocacy groups, including the American Diabetes Association, March of Dimes and the American Lung Association, reiterated their opposition to the measure. No patient group, medical organization or hospital group has voiced support for the bill.
MacArthur’s amendment to the proposal would allow states to escape the ACA requirement that individual insurers cover ten essential health benefits. The amendment also also lets states to bypass ACA rules that ban individual insurers from charging higher rates to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
That would disproportionately affect the estimated 40 percent of people age 50 to 64 who have a pre-existing condition and are too young to qualify for Medicaid, according to AARP.
In addition to direct mail, e-mail and social media lobbying efforts against the legislation, AARP is running radio ads in the districts of moderate Republicans who might vote for the bill.
“We are obviously focusing additional pressure and tactics on those who were undecided. And we‘re trying to make sure they either stay a ‘no’ or turn to a ‘no,’” said David Certner, AARP’s legislative policy director. The group wouldn’t say which lawmakers the ads are targeting.
Volunteers from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network expect to make 8,000 calls to GOP congressional offices this week, said Erin O’Neill, the group’s vice president for volunteer engagement and grassroots strategies.
People are terrified of losing their health care.
Barbara Blonsky, 64, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, a cancer survivor
If all Democrats oppose the measure as expected, the bill would fail if just 23 Republicans vote against it. Media reports suggest 21 or 22 Republicans plan to do so.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who’s being pressured to oppose the legislation by NJ 11th for Change, wouldn’t say whether he supports the measure, according to The Hill.
And four members of the GOP’s whip team, Reps. David Valadao of California, Erik Paulsen of Minnesota, Elise Stefanik of New York and Kevin Yoder of Kansas, are among Republicans who are undecided on the legislation, The Hill reported.
In Washington, patient groups also are making a last-minute push to lobby Republican lawmakers.
“We are doing the best we can to meet with them and we are reaching out to their staffs very aggressively,” Nelson said. “But it’s been a little bit difficult to get meetings right now. I think they’re being barraged by groups like ours.”
Blonsky, 64, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, was joined by a dozen or so supporters when she hand-delivered four bound notebooks to MacArthur’s office with the petition signatures collected nationwide.
Although MacArthur wasn’t there to speak with her, Blonsky said she made her case to one of his staffers.
“People are terrified of losing their health care,” Blonsky said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “That new bill with his amendment put everyone with a pre-existing condition at risk. That’s 130 million people nationwide.”