Hundreds of people from across California gathered in Bakersfield Friday — many arriving on buses — to express concerns to Congressman Kevin McCarthy about their future access to healthcare under a new presidential administration.
People from Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento, Kingsburg, Riverside, San Francisco, Los Angeles and more first met up at Yokuts Park then marched to the House majority leader’s office hoping to relay one message: It’s time to “protect, improve and expand” programs like Medicare and Medicaid, not cut them.
“I think it’s important our congressional representatives represent the interests of the community — the entire community,” said Emilio Huerta, a Bakersfield attorney who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, last November.
It was the second such demonstration here in two weeks. Last week, a state Senate committee hearing was held in Bakersfield where lawmakers, healthcare officials and patients decried any repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement that covers all.
McCarthy’s office responded Friday by referring The Californian to an opinion piece he released Jan. 19 saying the number of people insured under the ACA means little “when the quality of the insurance is so dismal.”
President Donald Trump has vowed to replace what’s also referred to as Obamacare with an insurance system that fixes current problems and extends access to everybody. He has pledged to leave entitlements like Medicare alone, but House GOP leaders have expressed the need to overhaul the program.
Organizers of Friday’s event said 51 percent of McCarthy’s constituents rely on Medicare and Medicaid, and they’re worried about the possibility of being left without healthcare.
“He’s our congressman, and we are his constituents, and we are telling him quite clearly we are not satisfied with him attacking Medicare — with him taking the Affordable Care Act away without the proper replacement,” said Sandy Reding, a nurse at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. “Here’s our replacement: Expand it. Improve it. Everybody in. Nobody out.”
At Yokuts Park, Pilar Schiavo of the Campaign for a Healthy California said McCarthy can start showing “real leadership” by addressing the community’s healthcare concerns and solving their healthcare problems.
People from across the state joined in on the rally for different reasons, but had one goal.
Brittany Howze, a nurse who traveled to Bakersfield from San Francisco, said she believes healthcare is a human right, while Dr. Paul Song, an oncologist from Los Angeles, said he participated in the protest because he believed McCarthy wasn’t listening to his constituents.
“I have witnessed first-hand the harm done by our unjust private healthcare system. Despite spending twice as much as any industrialized nation, far too many people remain uninsured. Far too many go bankrupt due to an illness. And far too many people delay seeking care due to too high co-pays and deductibles,” said Song.
“Today we are sending a clear message to the House majority leader: Medicare is our nation’s most successful healthcare program and now it is his job to protect it, and expand it to all.”
Once the group arrived at McCarthy’s office, the protesters found the doors locked and so left their message by taping protest signs to the outside of it.
They also listened to those who say they’ve benefitted from the healthcare programs expanded under the Obama administration.
Julie Otero, a local woman with two lung diseases, said without the ACA she wouldn’t be able to afford her medication, which costs more than what she earns in a month.
“If it wasn’t for Obamacare, I would not be here today,” the 53-year-old mother of seven said. “Why can’t they find a program to expand Medicare instead of cutting it? It is irresponsible to cut this program without having a backup plan.”
Nicole Naomi Jenkins, a single mother of a 12-year-old boy., told The Californian that without the ACA, her son wouldn’t have health insurance.
She said before the law took effect, she struggled with a lot of unpaid hospital bills because money was often tight. Today, Jenkins said, she doesn’t have to make the hard decisions about whether to pay for necessities or doctor bills.
“It’s a relief as a parent to know you have something backing you up,” Jenkins said.
“I hope he opens his heart to the pain of his people that put him in the position he’s in today,” Otero said. “We put him in there because we trusted him, and he is turning his back to his people.”