Just an hour before Friday’s presidential inauguration, advocates, local lawmakers, health care professionals, faith leaders and impacted families turned out in downtown Albany to meet the National Save My Care Bus Tour for a rally opposing Republicans’ rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
They gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the state capitol, demanding that any action to change the health care system must provide better coverage for more people. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a Democrat, characterized health care as a “basic human right.” "And it makes a difference in how we are going to move forward as a community and as a country."
If Congress simply repeals the Affordable Care Act, Sheehan says that 11,000 city residents will be at risk. "This is a basic human rights issue. And where we end up on this is going to speak to where we go with other important social and justice issues in this country. And so we need to speak up, because this is something that impacts each and every one of us."
In all, 2.7 million New Yorkers would lose coverage. State Senator Neil Breslin: "Health care is a matter of right. So we have to raise our voices to a higher pitch to make sure that nothing happens to the Affordable Care Act unless it is making it better."
Activists say repealing the ACA would strike a $3.7 billion loss to the state budget and a $600 million hit to counties across the state. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy challenges the Trump administration to stand behind and continue to improve it. "And seeing that through this whole campaign, we heard about repealing it. We never heard one time what they're going to replace it with. So everyone in this nation has to worry about, gheesh, am I gonna have health care tomorrow? Can I afford it? Prescription drugs — we gotta go to Canada. That's crazy."
Corey Ellis is the political co-ordinator for the New York State Nurses Association. "I've seen how people have benefited from the Affordable Care Act. We signed up thousands of people. I benefited from it, when I went out and started my own business. Without the Affordable Care Act, I would not have had health insurance. It is my duty to stand out here and fight and let this Congress know, let this president know, it is my duty to stand out here and fight. Repealing it should not be an option, we should be strengthening it, so millions of Americans can continue to live healthy lives."
Elliot Easton from East Greenbush worked for the same company for 40 years and was caught up in a mass layoff last fall. "Did have the option of going COBRA but that's about $2,000 a month, so how can you afford that with all the other bills, and I'm unemployed. I have a 19-year-old who is a sophomore in college. Suddenly his future became uncertain, because how was I gonna afford his tuition and health care?"
Easton says he was saved by the New York Navigator system, which found him insurance through ACA that was priced within his means and offered better coverage than what his employer had provided. "I'm still facing a lot of issues, being unemployed, but that is a huge issue for me that that weight is off my shoulders right now."
Also rallying was Ivette Alfonso with Citizen Action of New York, who worries that repealing the ACA would raise taxes on working Americans, undermine quality of care for everyone and destroy Medicare. "We cannot live in a country that takes away health care form so many millions and creates more racial and economic inequalities in health care. Are we fired up? (Crowd responds 'Fired up.')"
The Albany stop was part of the Save My Care’s two-month cross-country bus tour. Republicans, including the new president, have offered few details to date about what the replacement for the ACA will look like.