Last week, members from Indivisible Baltimore and Indivisible Towson joined others in the community for a health care-focused town hall in Baltimore organized by Maryland Health Care For All! and Senator Van Hollen’s office, and featuring both Senators Van Hollen and Cardin. The Senators took written questions from the audience for over an hour on issues ranging from Medicare For All to the new Graham-Cassidy bill. After the event, Indivisible Towson members helped register new voters.
Senator Van Hollen opened by thanking organizers, activists, and citizens for their vocal opposition to the GOP’s ACA repeal efforts, and by stressing that, with the new Graham-Cassidy bill, the fight was not over yet. He said it was absolutely critical to keep fighting until the September 30th deadline after which Republicans will no longer be able to pass a repeal through the reconciliation process, and Senate Dems will be able to filibuster any future repeal attempt.
Van Hollen also stressed that it was important that Congress *act now* to pass a measure to stabilize insurance markets that have been destabilized largely by the Trump administrations actions of withholding cost-sharing payments and actively undermining enrollment efforts.
Senator Cardin opened with his familiar, forceful refrain: Health care is a right and not a privilege.
Cardin talked about his three priorities for health care: 1) fight to preserve Obamacare, a system that can give us universal care, 2) do more to control health care costs, like taking on pharmaceutical companies on drug pricing, and 3) achieve universal coverage.
Both Senators were asked whether they supported Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All bill, to much applause from the audience.
Van Hollen: “Senator Cardin and I support the goal of universal coverage, and I salute Senator Sanders from introducing the Medicare For All bill.” When pressed about whether he supports the bill he responded, “I agree with the goals of the bill. I’m still looking over the bill. Right now we have taxes in place to to pay for Medicare as it exists. With Medicare For All, we’ll need to figure out how to pay for it.”
Cardin: “Universal coverage is the goal. This bill is one of many ways we could get there.” Cardin went on to stress the importance of unity in the health care fight, and the potential for Medicare For All to be a source of division among Democrats: “We have won the ACA repeal fight, so far, because we were united. It’s important that we remain united on health care.”
Cardin added: “I believe the next step is a public option, particularly in markets where private insurance companies have pulled out. But universal coverage is the goal, and we must remain united until we achieve that.”
An audience question focused on how premiums for her family of four have doubled over the last five years, under Obamacare. Van Hollen blamed uncertainty and decreases in enrollment due to actions by the Trump administration as part of the reason behind the premium increases. Cardin acknowledged that there is much work to be done to lower premium costs for families that aren’t eligible for expanded Medicaid but don’t have employer-based health insurance. Both Senators closed out the Q&A session by urging supporters to remain united against ACA repeal efforts, for one last push before the Sept 30th deadline.
The Senators time was followed by a surprise appearance from Representative John Sarbanes (MD-3) who urged the crowed to keep fighting the ACA repeal and explained how he saw, first-hand, in the Energy and Commerce Committee how the public outcry over the repeal had an effect on Republicans in Congress.
Finally, Vinny DeMarco of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative led a discussion with panelists from a number of local organizations including Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and the Baltimore City Health Department. They highlighted a number of points:
- In Baltimore City, the ACA was responsible for insuring an additional 40,000 people and lead to a 40% reduction in infant mortality
- Every version of the ACA repeal so far has contained a provision to defund Planned Parenthood. In the last legislative session in Maryland, a bill was passed that would ensure that Planned Parenthood would remain funded in the state if the federal government withdrew its support
- The NAACP considers the ACA to be a civil rights issue. ACA cut in half the uninsured rate among African Americans and eliminated the coverage gap between white and black children.
We want to thank Maryland Health Care For All! and Senator Van Hollen’s office for putting together this town hall, and for Senators Van Hollen and Cardin for taking the time to answer our questions.