With signs bearing slogans like “Trumpcare is no care” and “Bleed the poor for the greed of the rich” a group of around 40 rallied Friday in front of the Missoula office of Sen. Steve Daines, there to protest the U.S. Senate’s draft of a health care bill that was released to the public less than a day earlier.
The Senate bill was fashioned by a select group of senators without public input after the House passed the American Health Care Act last month. The bills are pitched as changes by the Republican-controlled Congress to the Affordable Care Act passed under President Barack Obama.
Erin Erickson of Missoula Rises said Friday's plan had originally been to go into Daines’ Missoula office and stay until demonstrators were able to speak on the phone with either the senator or Brad Kehr, his legislative assistant on health care matters.
However, the group arrived to find the Front Street office closed, with a note from staff taped to the front door saying staffers were currently out.
“We have to sway his vote to no,” Erickson said, adding that it was important for Daines to know “his job is on the line if he does not protect Montana.”
A spokesperson for Daines’ office said the Missoula office wasn’t aware of the rally until after it concluded, and would have had staff present to listen to the group if they had been.
The Senate bill as currently written would tighten restrictions on who is eligible for health insurance premium subsidies, phase out Medicaid expansion funding and cap the amount of money states receive in federal Medicaid funding each year.
It would continue to require insurers to accept people with pre-existing conditions, but would allow individual states to waive requirements for insurers to cover “essential health benefits” which include costs of certain emergency services and hospitalizations, maternity care, mental health treatment and prescription drugs.
Senate leadership indicated they want the bill to be voted on as early as next week.
Katie Waldman, press secretary for Daines, said the senator has not made a decision about the draft text, and that he’s still reviewing the 142-page bill and taking input from Montanans about the issue.
Daines has announced a telephone town hall meeting on June 28 at 6:15 p.m. to talk about the draft legislation. Anyone interested in listening in to that meeting can text “SenatorDaines” to 828282 or call any of his offices to register.
After the text was released Thursday, Sen. Jon Tester came out against the bill, saying Montanans will lose Medicaid funding if it passes and that it will make it more difficult to receive coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Tester, a Democrat, has a town hall meeting about health care in Great Falls on Saturday. It will be held at the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association at 501 Bay Drive at 6:30 p.m.
Jenny Montgomery, who owns Montgomery Distillery, said at Friday's rally the proposed cuts to Medicaid in the draft bill mean it can’t be allowed to pass.
“Health care is going to get more expensive,” she said, despite Republicans' insistence that their alternative will lower insurance premiums. “We are just not seeing what was promised.”
Montgomery said she was particularly worried about the access to health care in more rural Montana communities, and the effect any change would have on the health care industry in the state.
“We’re not only looking at public health, we’re looking at jobs,” she said. “This is a matter of life and death.”
Micah Nielsen of Montana Women Vote encouraged the crowd to come to phone-banking events to speak to other people in the state as well as their elected representatives about the bill.
“Health care is a human right,” she said. “Every single day, from now until we kill this bill, call both of our senators.”