Sen. Al Franken told a community forum in Burnsville Saturday that the health care overhaul Republicans are trying to push through the Senate would force Minnesotans to make terrible choices about their care.
Speaking before about 200 people gathered to hear Medicaid recipients talk about the potential effects of the GOP measure, Franken called his Republican colleagues' effort nothing more than an attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act, enacted during the Obama administration.
"This is nothing to do with health care reform," he said. "This is a tax cut for the people who need it the least."
The meeting, held at the Diamondhead Education Center in Burnsville, was hosted by "This Is Medicaid," a coalition of Minnesota health care, disability and consumer organizations that oppose the $800 billion in Medicaid cuts included in the Senate plan released last week. Medicaid covers half of all nursing home residents, half of all births, and is the primary source of coverage for people with disabilities.
Joining Franken at the meeting was Lynn Blewett, a University of Minnesota health policy professor who directs the State Health Access Data Assistance, based at the university.
"Nursing homes, a lot of them, will probably close because they will not be able to survive" if the GOP effort succeeds, Blewett told those gathered.
Medicaid recipients shared emotional stories about how they have benefited from the Affordable Care Act. After each story, many audience members wiped away tears.
Brandon Wittrock, 20, spoke about the 38 surgeries he has had to undergo to address his cerebral palsy. Wittrock, who was born weighing about one pound, said had medical costs of more than $1 million at the time of his birth. His family largely relied on Medicaid to pay for his health care.
"We need that funding to cover for medical expenses," he said. "Kids, in my case, need all the Medicaid funding we can get."
Minnesota's uninsured rate dropped by half, to 4.3 percent, following implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Blewett said Saturday.
The meeting took place one day after the GOP's plan was dealt a blow by Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller's announcement that he will not support the plan as written. So far, five Republican senators have said they cannot vote for the ACA repeal as written — Heller, whose concerns are with the bill's benefits cuts, and four hard-line conservatives who say the bill is too generous.
Heller did not rule out ultimately voting for a version of the bill, leaving the battle for 50 votes ahead of a Senate showdown as early as this week alive. But his denunciation of what is one of the pillars of President Trump's agenda gave fresh hope to Democrats that they may be able to torpedo the measure.
Scrambling to halt or at least slow the Senate's repeal effort, a range of Democratic and progressive leaders said Friday that they intended to intensify pressure on Republican lawmakers.
Supporters of the GOP measure argue that it would give states more flexibility and opportunities to receive grants to design their own programs.
John Rouleau, executive director of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a GOP aligned-group, said Saturday that Franken and other Democrats are using "the sky is falling" rhetoric to fight the bill and that the proposed cuts to Medicaid would be minimal.
"Where Minnesota in the past had been a national leader on innovation, it has been forced into a one-size-fits-all national policy," Rouleau said.