AFT nurses speak out against Senate healthcare bill

In the run-up to the release of the Senate's healthcare bill, AFT members and activists gathered in Washington, D.C., to speak out against the harmful cuts in the new proposal as well as those in the American Health Care Act, which the House of Representatives passed last month.

Now that the details of the bill have been revealed, Senate Republicans want to move quickly to meet their own deadline of June 30 to vote on the legislation, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act. AFT nurses from New Jersey and Ohio met with their senators to express opposition to the bill and to advocate for their patients. The nurses also participated in a rally outside the U.S. Capitol organized by Doctors for America and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.). They were joined by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and dozens of healthcare providers and advocates.

Richard Lucas and Holly Renninger

Ana Delgado, a nurse case manager at the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, where she manages medical needs for children in foster care, says the loss of the ACA will really hurt her clients, especially those on Medicaid. Delgado met with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

"The impact of children in foster care will be felt nationwide. It's unimaginable the number of children who will sit in foster care because of the cuts. These kids will languish in foster care forever," said Delgado, a member of Health Professionals and Allied Employees. During times and opportunities like these, "I say, if not me, then who will advocate? I'm here to advocate for our kids. I don't want anyone to forget about them."

Richard Lucas, a nurse from New Lexington, Ohio, who works at the Ohio State University Medical Center, is concerned about the opioid crisis in his state. "The problem is everywhere, and it affects everyone. If they roll back Medicaid coverage, these patients won't have access to care for treatment or mental health."

Lucas, who is a member of the Ohio Nurses Association, has been a nurse for 14 years; he knows what things were like before the ACA. "People are coming in to get care when they need it with the ACA." Lucas says his meeting with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) was productive because "the senator is doing a good job of encouraging people to share their stories, and I think that will make the biggest difference in this fight."

Holly Renniger (pictured above with Lucas), a nurse at Akron General Medical Center in Ohio, also met with Sen. Brown and shared her concerns. Renniger, who is an ONA member, has been a nurse for less than a year. "Patients are always going to get treated, but we will see the level of sickness go up."

The nurses were also part of a press conference with Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and members of the American Nurses Association, who all outlined the harmful effects of eliminating the essential health benefits and Medicaid provisions in the ACA. Lori Chovanak, nurse practitioner and CEO of the Ohio Nurses Association (pictured below), addressed the impact that having affordable, high-quality healthcare insurance has on patients.

Lori Chovanak at press conference

"I once had a patient with no insurance who needed a coronary bypass. He wasn't afraid of the surgery, but he was terrified of the financial repercussions if he got the surgery," she said. "I don't see those kinds of dilemmas much since the ACA and Medicaid expansion, but I'm worried I will again if this bill passes," she added. "Our healthcare system should be about keeping people well and healthy, not about just treating them after they get sick. It should be about providing the care people need when they need it."

In the days leading up to the Senate bill's release, there was a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill, including a rally sponsored by Families USA, MomsRising, Planned Parenthood, UltraViolet, the AFT and other labor organizations. Hundreds of enthusiastic activists turned out for the rally to hear from lawmakers leading the charge to defeat this bill. They were joined by people like cancer survivor Elizabeth Enright who were helped by the ACA. "Healthcare in this country is too expensive for people to pay for without insurance. I hope they [Senate Republicans] will think about my story," said Enright. "No one should have to become bankrupt because they are unable to pay for their medical bills."

"Our job is not to throw 23 million more off insurance; it's to guarantee healthcare to all as a right," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told the crowd. "Our job is to rally the American people and to tell the Republican leadership: Let us improve Obamacare, not destroy it!"

[Adrienne Coles]