If the 1,600 people at Saturday’s health care rally take Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ advice, Republican senators’ phone lines will be busy all week.
The former presidential candidate, along with several other speakers, told the ralliers to urge senators — specifically Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey — to vote no on what Sanders called a “barbaric and immoral piece of legislation.”
“Let me be as clear as I can be — this so-called health care bill that passed in the House last month, is the most anti-working class piece of legislation passed by the House of Representatives in the modern history of this country,” Sanders told the crowd at the convention center ballroom. “And the [Senate] bill — in some respects — is even worse.”
The Don’t Take Our Health Care rally — put on by MoveOn.org, One PA, Keystone Progress and Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates — was organized in an attempt to stop the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Sanders mounted the stage at 8 p.m. after speakers from advocacy groups told personal stories and urged the audience to call Toomey to oppose the Senate’s draft of the bill. Toomey is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Health Care and helped with the drafting process of the bill.
“What we are here tonight to say — as clearly as we can — is that we will not allow 23 million Americans to be thrown off of their health insurance they currently have in order to give over 500 billion dollars in tax breaks to the top 2%, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies and to other multi-national corporations,” Sanders said.
Sanders said that the U.S. is the only major country that does not guarantee health care as a right and that the proposed bill is nothing more than a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the wealthy.
“In America, we’re not supposed to take from the children, the elderly and the sick to give tax breaks to billionaires,” Sanders said.
Speakers before Sanders started chants with the crowd of about 1,600 people, such as “vote him out,” “lives are on the line,” “people not profits” and even a chant of “Turtle” when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was mentioned — a joke originating from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
Laura Thomas, an Indiana, Pennsylvania, resident, said she developed cancer from the effects of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. According to Thomas, her husband suffered from respiratory restraints after the attack as well, and was uninsured until the passage of the Affordable Care Act because his respiratory problems were considered to be a pre-existing condition.
“If they repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with this joke — this jumped up joke — to benefit the wealthy, my husband will once again be uninsured,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a Democrat who voted for Sanders in the primary, said that the health care bill proposed by the Senate last week is a travesty and that Sanders did a good job bringing the issues to light at the rally.
“He raised all of the cogent points that he always raises, with passion in an incredibly timely fashion, for a state represented by Pat Toomey,” Thomas said.
Senate Republicans divulged their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last Thursday after drafting the bill in secret. The draft includes deep cuts to Medicaid and repeals with insurance mandate that existed under Obamacare. It will offer tax cuts to help pay for insurance, but critics point out that the majority of the cuts go to the wealthy.
Jeff Warner, 25, graduated from Pitt in December and said that he absolutely opposes the Republican health care bill.
“I happen to have a job with good health care. But being that I’m not a lawyer, I do worry that I am actually under-informed about the bill and that it could affect me, because I know it’s not just going to be throwing people off of Medicare and Medicaid,” Warner said. “It’s gonna [screw] up the whole system. And I might feel the waves of that.”
Warner said that the health care bill the GOP proposes is “unspeakably evil” and thinks single payer health care is a better alternative. KC Carney, 65, graduated from Pitt in the 1980s and agrees that single-payer health care is the ideal option for America.
“I am not personally worried about [losing health insurance]. It’s provided by my employer — I pay, you know, I pay into it, but I get it from my employer,” Carney said. “It’s about everybody — the rest of citizenry needs to be helped, the sick and dying.”
Although Warner is not worried about losing his own health care, he thinks that health care should be a right and that every American should be entitled to receiving medical attention — a major point of Sanders’ speech.
“The bill would bring the number of uninsured people in our country to over 50 million people. This is almost beyond belief — it is unconscionable,” Sanders said. “Everyone knows that the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect. Our job now is to improve it, not destroy it.”