Jan. 10, 2017
WASHINGTON — Medical students descended on the nation’s capital on Monday to protest the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Hailing from all over the country, including as far away as Los Angeles, more than 50 medical trainees met with dozens of senators and legislative assistants, delivering petitions and hoping to dissuade Congress from doing away with the ACA. Medical students at over 30 other academic institutions in others states gathered to protest locally.
Also, around 25 members of #ProtectOurPatients participated in a FacebookLive Chat organized by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) where they discussed the consequences of repeal with dozens of Senate Democrats in an online forum.
“Our main ask for today is for bipartisan work to be done on opposing repeal and working together to improve the existing ACA,” Sidra Bonner, a medical student at the University of San Francisco and lead organizer of the protest, told MedPage Today.
The grass-roots campaign #ProtectOurPatients, represents 4,000 medical students, including nursing students and other allied health professionals, Bonner explained.
While the group fundamentally opposes repeal, if it does happen, Bonner said, “there needs to be an immediate and better plan in place … [one that’s] better than the existing ACA in terms of access, quality, and cost,” she said.
The medical students may get their wishes granted to some extent — on Jan. 10, 2017, a group of Republican lawmakers introduced an amendment to extend the deadline for budget reconciliation, the promised “repeal bill,” from Jan. 27 to March 3, 2017.
“By providing more time to come up with legislative solutions, we have a better opportunity to produce a thoughtful, workable replacement that ensures Americans have access to affordable, diverse insurance plans that meet their needs,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a press release.
The Senate is expected to vote on the preceding step in the repeal process, approving a budget resolution this week that would serve as a blueprint for repeal.
Only two Republican senators met with protesters directly: Collins and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
Protester Margaret Hayden, a second-year medical student at Harvard Medical School in Boston, grew up in Brunswick, Maine, and described her encounter with Collins, who is considered a more moderate Republican.
“I told her how I talked to the hospital CEO from Brunswick; talked to the chairman of the Maine Lobstermen’s [Community] Alliance and both said the same thing: That the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but it’s providing essential services and protections for the people they care for and work on behalf of,” Hayden stated.
Hayden said she asked Collins to vote against repeal unless an immediate replacement offering “the same or better coverage” can be implemented.
Hayden described Collins as “responsive and understanding” especially regarding access to coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. “She’s committed to working on a replacement plan that will offer that for [Maine residents].”
As for the request to vote against repeal without a replacement, Collins said “she’s taking it under consideration,” Hayden reported.
A meeting between Flake and Kyle Ragins, MD, MBA, an emergency medicine resident at the University of California Los Angeles, had a less positive encounter.
Ragins wrote in a follow-up email on Tuesday that Flake was “evasive” and “noncommittal” regarding the request to vote “no” to a repeal without a simultaneous replacement.
Students also met with Republican staffers from the offices of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
During the Facebook Live Chat, protester Maria Phillis, JD, a fourth-year medical student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reported speaking with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Phillis, who plans to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, expressed concern to Warren that if the ACA is repealed, requirements to cover maternity care for women would disappear.
“[I]t’s really important to have that prenatal care,” Phillis said, noting that it’s not uncommon for life-threatening conditions to emerge during pregnancy. One example is pre-eclampsia, she said, noting that when it is caught early, clinicians can decide how to proceed to protect the mother and her baby.
“If we don’t have those people coming in and getting care, we may have them coming into deliver and having a seizure, and possibly even dying,” Phillis emphasized.
Following his Live Chat, MedPage Today asked Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) if he was hopeful about saving Obamacare.
He said that he hoped warnings against repeal without replacement from groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank) would prevail.
“Any action related to repeal is going to produce a lot of uncertainty that could destabilize markets and really cause a healthcare crisis in our country,” he said.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) were more cautious.
“Those who are saying they’re for repeal are saying ‘Nobody’s going to get hurt. Nobody’s going to lose any services.’ Tell that to the hundreds and thousands of women who depend on Planned Parenthood and depend on it for vital and preventive services,” Wyden told MedPage Today.
Klobuchar added that Republicans “just want to say ‘repeal.’ That sounds good on a bumper sticker, but you’re basically threatening the healthcare of millions of people.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) made a pocketbook argument against repeal, saying that financially ACA repeal affects “all of us.” If “people are going to emergency rooms as the first place they seek medical care. It’s about all that we will benefit from in terms of having a healthy society and a productive society.”
Some medical students also participated in #ProtectOurPatients events at their own schools elsewhere in the country. Following are photos submitted to MedPage Today from Oregon Health & Science University, Yale University, Stanford University, and University of California branches in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Irvine, and Davis.