Across the country, angry crowds have gathered at public forums on health care changes, booing and heckling members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted for President Donald Trump’s American Health Care Act (AHCA). On Monday, more than 200 people in Eden Prairie, in Minnesota’s Third District, flipped the script, giving standing ovations to a congressman.
That congressman, however, doesn’t represent that district, and most of the people in the crowd can’t vote for him.
Rep. Keith Ellison, a Fifth District Democrat, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about the proposed changes to health care. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican who represents the Third, was absent, save for a sign that said, “Where is Erik?”
Paulsen saw the forum as a trap, no doubt. “Erik will continue to spend his time having productive and thoughtful discussions with constituents and stakeholders, not participating in political theater with the deputy chair of the DNC,” said John-Paul Yates, campaign spokesperson.
To be sure, it was a bit of performance art by Ellison, who deftly took advantage of Paulsen’s refusal to hold town meetings on health care. But it got rave reviews from a clearly partisan crowd, and many said they came away more informed.
The people who packed the community room of Immanuel Lutheran Church were the people who would be most affected if the GOP is successful in repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replacing it with anything close to the AHCA. There were senior citizens, people on Medicaid and Medicare, people who had diabetes and heart conditions and lung problems. One woman from Chanhassen toted an oxygen tank.
Some people told stories of how the ACA had kept them from bankruptcy. Others complained that while their premiums were too costly, they were afraid it would only get worse under the proposed plan. Several people were in tears.
Attending the meeting was Dean Phillips, who recently announced he is running against Paulsen. Before the event, people swarmed around him. “Thank you for being here, and thank you for running,” said one man. “My wife wants to take a picture.”
“It’s powerful,” Phillips said of the emotional gathering. “It’s a legacy of these times.”
Ellison reminded people, however, that angry meetings preceded the passage of the ACA. “Some folks were excited, some were not,” he said. “People voiced opinions, some of them not too complimentary of me.”
Ellison said, however, that people are trying to dismantle the ACA at a time when it has begun to stabilize, adding that it has helped millions of people. Many in the crowd nodded or raised their hands. “That’s right,” one woman said loudly.
Under Trump’s proposal, states would be allowed to waive the “essential benefits” clause of the ACA, which makes insurers cover such necessities as mental health and maternity.
“Some men say they don’t want to cover maternity expenses,” Ellison said. “Maternity care is important for everyone, not just women. Everyone came from a mom, and women cover prostate cancer. That’s how insurance works.”
The crowd seemed uniquely informed on medical issues. People asked about “risk corridors,” health care plans of Congress members (they participate in the ACA exchanges) and how changes would affect veterans.
Colleen Mauro, of Minneapolis, said she was “newly politically active” beginning on May 4, “when I saw this bill signed.”
Bill from Eden Prairie said that while the story of the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia was important, he hoped it didn’t distract from actual policy changes, such as health care.
Annette said she is on Social Security disability, which barely pays for Type I diabetes and lung disease. The price of her insulin has skyrocketed, she said. “If I every had to be on my own, I’d be homeless,” she said.
Deb, from Mound, is “falling into that nasty category” at age 60.
“How close are we to single payer?” she asked. “Are we dreaming here? How do they justify not caring about us?”
Deb’s last question got raucous applause.
A pediatric nurse from Bloomington said that if the AHCA passes, “600,000 children in Minnesota would lose.”
Many asked Ellison what they could do to change direction and improve the ACA instead of repeal it. He pointed out that 90 million people qualified to vote passed on their responsibility in the last election.
“Now is not the time to be a sideline citizen,” he said.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin