On Tuesday, the pro-Obamacare protests reached the U.S. Capitol. A group of protesters, organized in part by the Service Employees International Union, launched a sit-in outside the offices of Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch. They were demonstrating both in opposition to a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act and against Trump’s nomination of Representative Tom Price, an ardent Obamacare opponent, to run the Department of Health and Human Services. After a day of protesting and obstruction, Capitol Police arrested 47 demonstrators.
The striking thing about this group was not necessarily their raucous protests or their decision to choose arrest as an end to their demonstration—congressional buildings have seen more than their fair share of protesters and arrests over the last two weeks—but just who was doing the protesting. Among the people I talked to about the protest were several first-timers and people whose very lives and livelihoods were at stake with a new health law.
For Vernette Mahone, a Michigan-based home-care provider for seniors and people with disabilities, the protest was a chance to advocate both for herself and for her patients. "It affects the people I care for, and affects me as a worker because home-care workers don't usually have insurance,” Mahone told me. Medicaid and other public insurance programs are essential for the health of low-income people with disabilities, and in turn those programs pay home-care workers for necessary services. Obamacare provides for the expansion of Medicaid to many low-income people, and also provides subsidies for private insurance for those in slightly higher incomes who don’t have insurance from their employers. Often, home-care providers are in similar socioeconomic situations to their patients and also don’t have guarantees for health insurance from employers, so programs like Obamacare both pay them and provide them with health insurance.
Tonia McMillian, a licensed family childcare provider and organizer from Los Angeles, agrees with Mahone, and also sees her protest as a fight for essential rights. "I happen to be one of those folks who has benefitted tremendously from the ACA, and it's extremely important for me to get out here and protect my health care," McMillian told me. "I have a pre-existing condition, I have a thyroid condition, and before I got my health care, I would sign up with a health care plan—Kaiser, blue cross—long enough to see a doctor, long enough to get a prescription, get my medication, and then I would drop that health-care plan.” With her condition, premiums were too much of a monthly financial burden, and like many people who spend most of their time uninsured, McMillian only chose to seek coverage and care when in crisis—paradoxically, when coverage was most expensive. Subsidized health insurance through the ACA, McMillian said, not only provides the health-care security that she long sought, but also gives her financial stability.