At statewide vigils, protesters press Toomey on health care bill

 Adrianne Gunter receives treatment for her multiple sclerosis through Medicaid. She fears the proposed GOP health care bill will limit her ability to receive treatment. (Liz Tung/WHYY)

Adrianne Gunter receives treatment for her multiple sclerosis through Medicaid. She fears the proposed GOP health care bill will limit her ability to receive treatment. (Liz Tung/WHYY)

Protesters who fear the U.S. Senate Republicans’ health care proposal will hurt Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable citizens have targeted Sen. Pat Toomey’s six offices statewide.

Several dozen demonstrators gathered outside Toomey’s Philadelphia office Friday morning, holding signs pleading, “Toomey: Stand 4 Health Care!” and “HANDS OFF MEDICAID.”

They were approaching the homestretch of a 24-hour vigil to protest the GOP health care bill, which aims to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Among the biggest complaints against the bill known as The Better Care Reconciliation Act is a proposed rollback of Medicaid.

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“We have over 2 million people on Medicaid in Pennsylvania, and our fear is that those people are not going to be on Medicaid in five years,” said vigil organizer Robin Stelly. “And what are they going to do?”

The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid access, covering an additional 700,000 people in Pennsylvania. But under the Republican bill, federal funding for Medicaid would be cut, with expanded benefits phased out by 2020.

Among those at risk of losing their coverage is Adrianne Gunter, who attended the Philadelphia rally Friday.

“I have multiple sclerosis, and I’m on Medicaid, and I only got Medicaid through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion,” said Gunter. She said she had to wait two years after symptoms of the disease appeared to receive a diagnosis because she couldn’t afford to see a neurologist.

Once she enrolled in Medicaid, Gunter said, she was able to begin treatment.

“I’m terrified I’m going to lose that insurance because there isn’t a cure for multiple sclerosis,” she said.

The bill also opens the door to reinstating lifetime limits on coverage for essential health benefits, which the Affordable Care Act eliminated. These caps allowed insurance companies to stop paying for care once a patient’s treatment maxed out at a specific dollar amount.

That frightens Sara Atkins, whose 11-year-old daughter suffers from a condition that causes her to go into anaphylactic shock. Atkins said the only treatment that’s helped so far is a medication that, without coverage, their family wouldn’t be able to afford.

“Lifetime caps are coming back to employer health care. That means that my daughter will max out in a year or two, or even quicker for all we know,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen because once she hits that cap, I don’t know what we’re going to do. As a parent, it’s downright terrifying.”

She said that Toomey’s office had been unresponsive to her complaints.

On Thursday, Toomey released a statement in response to concerns about cuts, saying “No one currently covered by Obamacare will have the rug pulled out from under them.”

Toomey, who helped write the bill, has said he is likely to vote for it, in part because it puts Medicaid on a sustainable path that will make it more affordable in the future.

“Pennsylvanians expected me to keep my word, and I said I would do everything I can to repeal as much of (Obamacare) as we can and move health care in the direction where patients and consumers are making decisions, not bureaucrats,” Toomey told reporters on a conference call. “I think this bill takes us a big step in that direction.”

Senate GOP leaders hope to schedule a vote on the bill before the Fourth of July recess.


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