Raising Women’s Voices regional coordinators across the country were marching and speaking out against repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and for women’s health last weekend. What’s next for Congress, Trump and us? We’re working to keep the momentum going, and use it to strongly oppose any repeal of the ACA without a replacement plan that covers at least the same number of people with the same quality health insurance at an affordable price. Below, we provide a summary of what’s going on in Congress this week, and what you can do. But first, here’s a roundup of our women’s march activities.
Dizzy Warren of Enroll Michigan (the RWV coordinator in that state, pictured at right) spoke at the march in Lansing about the positive impact the ACA has had on people in Michigan. “I have seen the impact of the ACA on the people who walk through our doors…and the doors of our partner organizations throughout the state,” she told the crowd. She described the devastating consequences ACA repeal would have on Michigan women, LGBTQ people and families.
WV FREE participated in both the DC march and their local march in Charleston, WV. Nearly 3,000 showed up for the march in Charleston, where their Director for Reproductive Health Access, Anduwyn Williams, led the Charleston crowd in a mindfulness exercise. WV Free also did tabling at the march, and over the last two weeks, has patched through more than 130 calls to U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, opposing ACA repeal without a solid replacement. Capito is now one of the co-sponsors of the Cassidy-Collins bill that is being promoted as a Republican moderate alternative to repealing the ACA without a replacement. Below, you can read our full assessment of this proposal, which we think is unworkable in actual practice, and unlikely to move forward in the Senate.
The National Women’s Health Network team represented RWV in the Washington, D.C., march. NWHN’s Sarah Christopherson spotted Virginia Governor Terry McAufliffe (pictured together at right) and took advantage of the opportunity to talk to him about his support for Medicaid expansion. The Governor responded enthusiastically to Sarah’s advocacy, and told us “I’m really committed to expanding Medicaid in Virginia. Virginia has lost nearly $8 billion by not expanding!” Sarah, Cindy Pearson and the rest of the NWHN team spent the rest of the day demonstrating their support for the ACA.
Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), RWV’s Colorado regional coordinator, participated in the Women’s March on Denver. COLOR's Executive Director, Cristina Aguilar, was a featured speaker, telling the crowd” "We are marching so that we can control our birthing options, choose our sexual partners, determine and express our own gender and create the relationships and families that we choose and the healthy, empowered sex lives that we want.”
The Afiya Center had an especially busy weekend, participating in not only the Women’s March on Dallas, but also in a Roe v. Wade anniversary event called Our Bodies, Our Lives, as well as in a press conference and a rally and phone bank. Marsha Jones of the Afiya Center is shown in march photo at left (she’s at center, wearing a white t-shirt). Laura Jimenez, the Executive Director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), spoke at the march in Los Angeles. NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts marched in Boston.
Raising Women’s Voices-NY was marching in New York City, where a crowd estimated at 400,000 people turned out, overwhelming organizers and bringing mid-town to a standstill. Carrying the RWV banner were Amy Zarin, lead author of our health insurance literacy staffer (right in photo) and her friend, Samantha Garbus, left, with help from Jessica Quistorff, center, a former intern.
RWV-NY Outreach and engagement coordinator Cindi Azuogu, shown at left, used her sign to send a message about how the ACA has given women contraceptive coverage without co-pays. That message turned out to be timely in New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Saturday the filing of a proposed regulation that would enshrine birth control coverage without co-pays in New York policy. RWV Co-founder Lois Uttley was quoted in the Governor’s press release: “Today’s action by the Cuomo administration will ensure that New York women can get the contraceptive coverage they need, no matter what happens at the federal level.” A second proposed rule announced Saturday would require coverage of medically-necessary abortions without co-pays or deductibles.
Hannah Rosenau, Program Director for the Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health (OFRH) sounded a similar theme about enacting protection at the state level when she spoke at a post-march benefit dance party in Portland: “We’re Oregon and we’re not only to going not accept cuts (at the federal level)…we’re going to move some proactive legislation to ensure all Oregonians will still have their birth control at no cost, can afford abortion care and won’t face discrimination when accessing reproductive health care!”
RWV Co-founder Byllye Avery (shown at right in photo) spoke at the march and rally in her hometown ofProvincetown, MA, telling the crowd: “We are fighting for our health care and our rights. Everything we consider a ‘right’ they consider a ‘wrong.” Ngina Lythcott (left in photo) said, “Remember that health care is a human right. It is important for each of us, especially within our own demographic groups, to engage in conversations about progressive ideas (story telling is most effective) with people across class-lines.”
Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA) participated in two women’s marches. NoHLA's Executive Director, Janet Varon, and others marched in Seattle, WA, while NoHLA Staff Attorney Huma Zarif participated in the march in nearby Portland, OR.
RWV regional coordinator Cherisse Scott of SisterReach kept the momentum going on Monday when she spoke out at a press conference in Memphis, TN. “Right now,” she said, “we are dealing with a new administration that is more concerned with dismantling its predecessor's legacy than ensuring health care for every American." She and other activists called on local and state officials to support programs that help marginalized communities fight HIV and AIDS, gain access to birth control and abortions, seek accountability for police and earn livable wages.
On Tuesday, RWV Regional Field Manager Cecilia Saenz Becerra (shown in the center) spoke at a press conference and panel discussion in Atlanta entitled “Our Health, Our Rights” that was sponsored by a newly-formed GA Health Alliance for Refugee & Immigrant Communities coalition. She spoke about the benefits the ACA has had for women and immigrants, and what a repeal would mean, including the end of hopes for Medicaid expansion in Georgia. The event was covered by Spanish language media, including Mundo Hispanico and El Nuevo Georgia.
Republican members of Congress are retreating to Philadelphia this week for a pep talk with their new President, hoping to narrow the gulf between the ideological and pragmatic wings of the party. They will be met with more of the kind of protests they’ve been experiencing across the country, including a rally opposing the defunding of Planned Parenthood and another one Thursday morning, when the Save My Care bus tour stops in town.
As one of his first actions in office, Donald Trump signed a far-ranging Executive Order last Friday that could exacerbate the existing tensions within the Republican party. The new order directs the federal agencies responsible for implementing the ACA to waive wherever possible “any provision or requirement of the Act” that would impose any kind of “cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden” on anyone—from individuals and doctors to insurers and states.
Although provisions like the individual mandate would remain in the law, the administration could stop enforcing the law or grant such sweeping exemptions as to make it meaningless. De facto elimination of the mandate, as Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway has said Trump may do, could prompt both a quick exodus of insurance companies out of ACA markets and a hike in premiums, as the CBO noted last week. Meanwhile, conservatives opposed to the ACA’s consumer protections are hopeful that the order is a signal to insurance companies that they can drop key health benefits, ranging from maternity care to mental health care, without repercussions.
Pragmatic Republicans have already expressed nervousness that the administration is poised to sow chaos in skittish health insurance markets. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) cautioned, “I think that the executive order is very confusing, and that we really don’t know yet what the impact will be. We want to ensure that individuals relying on the current system do not experience a needless and avoidable gap in coverage.”
Collins joined several colleagues in introducing ACA replacement legislation this week that would require states wanting to keep the ACA to “re-implement” it, but with less money from the federal government to help low-income households get coverage. The bill has a number of practical failings that make it unworkable, but that’s almost beside the point. More importantly, the bill doesn’t go far enough in dismantling the ACA for hardline conservatives in the House and goes too far to appease the eight Democrats needed to pass replacement through the Senate.
That’s why advocates must continue to make clear that simply putting out a plan is not enough to let Senators off the hook to then vote for repeal. SEIU is continuing to offer a toll-free hotline (866-426-2631) for people to call their members of Congress. Their recommended message is this: No ACA repeal without a replacement that provides at least the same level of coverage and care, and no cuts to or restructuring of Medicaid. Repeal without a simultaneous replacement is just repeal.