By Roona Ray, M.D., M.P.H.
Cleveland Plain-Dealer, July 6, 2017
On Wednesday, June 28, I was one of dozens of doctors, nurses, patients with chronic illness, and voters who visited six senators on Capitol Hill to tell them to vote “no” on TrumpCare.
My group visited the office of Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
After hearing about the catastrophic $800 billion cuts to Medicaid proposed by Senate Republicans, we had come to Washington, D.C., from around the country to object. We came on just a few days’ notice in order to defend the public’s right to health care and to oppose tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.
In response, we were arrested.
The senator was not available, so I sat down alongside other health workers and patients on the couches and floor in Sen. Portman’s office to tell his staff and closed doors our stories; we wondered if the senator was sitting inside.
Chuckie, a Lake Milton, Ohio, voter and disabled General Motors auto worker from Mahoning County, told how health insurance helped him get treatment after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
Jenn spoke about her mother, who had survived illness because of Medicaid and went on to become an Emergency Room nurse.
Ali, a medical student, described how Medicare had helped her 78-year-old father survive heart disease.
Michaela, a community health center nurse and mother of three, anguished that she would be forced to turn patients away from care if the bill passed.
A mother and her two children with a congenital condition called Noonan’s syndrome relayed how health insurance saved her family from bankruptcy.
Vinay said that health insurance gave him mental health services that made the difference between his best and worst days. He worried that decimating Medicaid would rob millions of Americans of their best days.
I trained for nine years after college to become a family doctor and public health specialist. After I started working, I realized that I couldn’t always give patients the care they needed. It wasn’t because I hadn’t learned enough. It was for these reasons: My patients were sometimes uninsured, or they had been kicked off their insurance plans, or they didn’t qualify for the right kind of insurance, or they couldn’t afford their co-pays, deductibles, medical bills, or donut holes, or their insurance didn’t cover the treatments and tests they needed.
As a doctor, it’s frustrating and horrific to watch patients get sick and die from preventable disease simply because they don’t have the right plastic insurance card. There is no biology that explains this mechanism of disease. As a citizen, it’s unacceptable to see fellow humans needlessly suffer.
We moved into the hallway, where our stories echoed down stately marble corridors into other senators’ offices. While we were sharing our stories about why health care matters to us, the Capitol police swarmed around us, shackled our wrists behind our backs with plastic zip ties, and dragged us off.
If the Senate passes this cruel bill, they will shackle the entire health system. They will tie the hands of health care workers and prevent them from delivering medical care, and they will doom patients to suffering from preventable disease.
The Republican death care bill proposes to kick 22 million people off the health insurance they have now.
It will cause millions to get sick, and it will cause an estimated 29,000 Americans to die each year. Thousands of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals will be forced to watch as millions of our patients are unable to access the care they need. This would be a tragic violation of our professional ethics and an insult to our years of training, hard work, and goodwill.
It is no surprise that nearly every major association of health professionals opposes this bill. It is surprising, however, that this opposition is not being heard. Doctors and nurses do not typically sit-in and risk arrest. But traditional means of communication are not registering with Congress.
Health care workers will support our patients. We reject a bill that promotes death and disease. We reject a bill that hands out unnecessary tax cuts to the few uber-wealthy at the expense of the health of millions.
I would rather go to jail than see patients needlessly suffer and die. The minor discomfort of being handcuffed, detained for eight hours, and slapped with a $50 fine pales in comparison to the years of death, despair, and pain millions of Americans will experience if our lawmakers pass this deadly bill.
Even if it requires more arrests, we will continue to confront Sen. Portman and his colleagues — who are shielded from the impact of this vote by their own taxpayer-funded premium health plans — with the reality that this bill is literally a matter of life or death.
Dr. Roona Ray is a board-certified family physician and HIV and public health specialist, and serves on the board of Physicians for a National Health Plan, Metro New York Chapter.