CHARLESTON, W. Va. (CN) – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders visited Charleston, W. Va. Sunday to denounce the GOP health care bill and press his colleague, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito to join the growing number of Republicans who oppose the bill.
Mincing no words, Sanders called the bill unveiled by the GOP Senate leadership week as “barbaric and immoral.”
The Senate is expected to vote this week on the Better Care Reconciliation Act, a bill that is similar to one the House of Representatives previously passed to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“It turns out that the legislation that is coming before the Senate in a few days, the so-called health care bill, will be the most devastating attack on the working class of this country in the modern history of the United States of America,” Sanders told an audience of about 2,000 at the Protect Our Health Care Rally in the Charleston Municipal Auditorium.
“This legislation will cause devastating, unprecedented harm to millions of people in my state, in your state and all across the country,” the senator said.
Charleston was the second of three stops for Sanders to assail the bill. He had earlier spoken in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and his final stop was Columbus, Ohio.
The rallies were intended to mobilize opposition to the Senate health care bill in those three key states.
“This was an extraordinary turnout, given the fact that we sent out the notice only three days ago,” Sanders said after taking the stage. “Thank you for standing up for justice and for dignity. Thank you for standing up for democracy and demanding that we have a government that represents all of us, not just the one percent,” Sanders said.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has already vowed to vote against the bit, but Capito has not made the same promise.
Manchin said the bill would only worsen the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, which leads the nation in drug overdose deaths.
Medicaid has funded most of the treatment programs in the state ,and three out of four addicts in West Virginia are beneficiaries of the Medicaid expansion, according to attendees at the rally.
Medicaid pays for nearly 45 percent of all buprenorphine prescriptions in West Virginia. Buprenorphine is an opiate used to wean addicts off of heroin and other opioids.
The grassroots West Virginians for Affordable Health Care says 184,000 people in the state will lose their health insurance — 16,000 people will lose their health care industry jobs — of the Republican bill is adopted in its current form.
Summer Cave, one of several speakers at the rally, said her mother worked three jobs and still could not get health insurance. By the time she finally did qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, it was too late. She had stage four esophageal cancer.
Cave said she and her twin brother were in high school at the time, and struggled to afford groceries and keep the lights on in their home as their mother lay dying in a Charleston hospital.
“Because of the nature of my mother’s cancer, she had tubes down her throat, she was forced to write what she wanted to say in a notebook,” Cave said. “After her passing, I went through her notebook. I found a moment where she knew she was dying. She wrote, ‘I don’t understand. I thought I was getting better.’ She didn’t understand why she was dying, but I do. She didn’t have proper access to affordable health care. I
“f the ACA had been enacted just a year or two earlier, she would have been diagnosed before her symptoms escalated to the point where she was coughing up blood in the bathroom sink. But still, I am here,” the young woman said. “I am here to tell her story, and warn of the devastation that will break families if these opportunities are taken away from people like me.”
Sarah Leighann, an attendee at the rally, also voiced her concerns over the healthcare bill.
“I came today because West Virginia has always been very much a pull yourself up by your bootstraps type of place, but not everybody has bootstraps or even boots to pull themselves up with,” Leighann said. “Everyone deserves healthcare … My whole family has preexisting conditions, my mother has diabetes, my dad has AFIB, I have PCOS, my oldest child is being diagnosed with Autism, and it’s just not fair for anyone to say, “Well, do I pay for my insulin or do I get food for the month?”
“I know that Donald Trump, during his election, told the people of West Virginia, the people of Vermont, and the people of the United States, that he was going to stand up for the working class,” Sanders said. “That’s what he said. It turned out not to be true. It turned out that the legislation that is coming before the Senate in a few days, the so-called Healthcare Bill, will be the most devastating attack on the working class of this country in the modern history of the United States.”
“This ‘so-called healthcare bill is not a healthcare bill at all,” Sanders said. “You don’t have a healthcare bill by throwing millions of people off of health insurance. What this bill truly is, is a massive transfer of wealth from the working class of this country to the wealthiest people in America.”
“Sen. Capito please vote no,” he added.
Sanders also reminded the senator, who was not in attendance, of the large and influential groups who have come out against the bill, including AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Hospital Association.
“Everybody knows that the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect,” Sanders said. “Our goal now is to improve the Affordable Care Act, not destroy it. Instead of throwing millions off of the health insurance they now have, instead of creating a situation where we will have over fifty million Americans without any health insurance at all and God knows how many more who are underinsured. Our job in the near future is to join every other major country on earth that guarantees health care to all its citizens.”