Wisconsin and Illinois Activists Challenge House Speaker Paul Ryan

Robert Kraig

Hundreds of Wisconsin and Illinois activists will brave snowstorms Tuesday to converge on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office in Racine, Wisconsin, to challenge the GOP’s bid to take health care away from millions of Americans.

The two groups leading the event, Fair Economy Illinois and Citizen Action of Wisconsin, are affiliates of the national organizing network People’s ActionThe action is one of the #ResistTrumpTuesdays events that have been held around the country since January.

The strength of the grassroots resistance against GOP plans to gut health coverage has caught the political establishment by surprise, and put Congressional Republicans across the country on the defensive, prompting many to cancel public meetings with their constituents.

This upsurge in democracy poses a huge challenge to the Republicans’ health care strategy, which deceives the American people. In the 2016 elections, conservative candidates sounded like progressives, promising they would reduce health insurance costs and expand choices for all Americans. Now Ryan promises an outcome where “no one is worse off,” and President Donald Trump assures the public that “we’re going to have insurance for everybody.”

We are witnessing one of the most audacious and tragic bait-and-switches in American history. This gap between the bait – what conservatives now promise – and what they actually plan to do  – the switch – is so wide, that it further degrades the public trust needed for a healthy democracy.

Now as always, the best solution to the challenges of democracy is more democracy. While the facts are critical, even more important to the outcome of the great American health care debate are the the personal experiences being shared by average people who are turning out in droves to speak out to their elected representatives all across the country.

Speakers at today’s action include Ethel Gates, a Certified Nursing Aide in Racine for over thirty years and longtime member of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, and Tammy Wolfgram, a small-business owner from Waukesha.

Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Tammy, her husband, and her daughter could not find any health insurance company that would sell them coverage because all three had pre-existing conditions.

They were only able to buy health insurance in Wisconsin’s high-risk pool, one of the elements of the GOP health-care plan, but it cost them over $1,000 per month, had a very high deductible, and had a cap on coverage.

Because of the ACA, the family was able to buy high-quality and affordable coverage for the first time. Tammy’s daughter, who is in her mid 20s, has a life-threatening health condition which requires prescription drugs that cost $4,000 per month.

“If ACA is repealed, I don’t know what we will do,” says Tammy.

The CBO numbers that came out Monday reveal millions of American families will be at risk if the GOP health care bait-and-switch is not stopped dead in its tracks. LeeAnn Hall, Co-Director of People’s Action, says:

The Congressional Budget Office numbers clearly show the serious damage the repeal legislation will do to millions of lives by next year – and millions more in the next few years. The House must halt further action on this irresponsible bill immediately. Anyone who believed GOP promises that people would still have health insurance under the Republican repeal plan now know that they were lied to; they are going to be left out in the cold.

Many of the people traveling to Racine, Wisconsin today to protest at Speaker Ryan’s office have first-hand experience with these consequences. Dorothy Jerome is a member of Fair Economy Illinois. She is a mental-health care worker, and the child of a parent with mental illness.  

“The Affordable Care Act repeal bill by Speaker Paul Ryan includes massive cuts to mental health and addiction services because of cuts to Medicaid,” says Jerome.

Untreated mental illness can lead people to desperation, the misery of mental states you and I can’t even begin to imagine. I am going to Wisconsin today with a message for Speaker Ryan and the Trump administration: Cutting people’s healthcare is murder! Healthcare is a right! I want Medicare for all!

As Tammy Wolfgram’s and Dorothy Jerome’s stories show, millions of families will face life-or-death consequences if they can no longer afford health insurance. Tammy’s daughter will be at tremendous risk if she can’t get the life saving medication she needs. People living with mental illness will be much more likely to suffer and ultimately lose their lives.

The best available research shows that for every 830 people who gain health coverage, 1 death is prevented. According to the new CBO numbers, this means that GOP health plan will lead to the deaths of almost 29,000 Americans.

Paul Ryan insists he has a better health plan, but it defies the laws of physics – and common sense – to believe that you can pull $1.2 trillion dollars out of the health care system, as the CBO analysis documents, and cover more people at lower cost.

And what do President Trump and Speaker Ryan want to do with the money? They want to deliver huge tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and to some of the most profitable corporations.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the House health plan takes away the money for subsidizing health coverage for millions of low and middle income Americans to give a tax cut averaging $33,000 per year for the top 1 percent of income earners and an average of a whopping $197,000 for the super rich 0.1 percent.

The plan also cuts taxes for prescription drug corporations, insurance giants, medical device manufacturers, and even allows health insurance corporations to write off huge multi-million dollars salaries for their CEOs.

This is a huge test for our democracy, because the Republican plans cannot survive if the American people understands its true implications. How do we know that for sure? Because conservative politicians would not promise universal access to health coverage at lower cost unless their own opinion research showed this is what most Americans want.

Trump and Ryan had hoped to sneak this plan through in the dead of night, hiding behind arcane legislative procedures. The democratic surge that has risen up to challenge this action has has blown up that anti-democratic strategy, but the fight is far from over.

That’s why actions like today’s protest at Paul Ryan’s office is so important. Only Americans exercising their first Amendment rights can win this critical fight, and then begin to set us on a course of at long last establishing health care as a fundamental American right.

Robert Kraig, PhD is the Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. In October of 2011 Robert was one of the recipients of the Citizen Leadership Award from the Campaign for America’s Future. In January of 2009 Families USA, the national organization for health care consumers, presented Robert with its “Consumer Health Advocate of the Year Award.”

Get updates in your inbox

Comments