A small but passionate crowd rallied outside Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s Charleston office Tuesday to protest the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Capito voted a year ago to repeal and replace the law, saying in a statement that it has been “absolutely devastating.”
Since the enactment of the act, also known as Obamacare, in 2010, the uninsured rate has dropped by 59 percent in West Virginia, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It’s estimated that close to 200,000 West Virginians could lose their health care if the ACA is repealed.
The demonstration, organized by several advocacy groups, including West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and West Virginia Citizen Action Group, took place in the midst of a transition to a new presidential administration and a Republican-controlled Congress that has threatened to repeal and replace the law, putting health insurance coverage at risk for thousands of West Virginians.
Thus far, Republican leaders in Congress have not put forth a detailed replacement plan.
Terri Giles, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, who said she is enrolled in health insurance under the ACA, said a repeal would cause the loss of billions of dollars in federal funding for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and subsidies for coverage under the act. The repeal, she said, would “be like an avalanche on us, and we can’t survive that.”
Giles wasn’t the only rally attendee worried about the consequences of a repeal. Angie Iafrate, 37, a high school teacher from South Charleston who previously was insured through the ACA in 2015, said health care is not a partisan issue.
“We all get sick, we all have accidents, we all need health care,” she said, “and repealing Obamacare without having something to replace it is going to leave a lot of people out in the cold.”
But Capito, who met with the event organizers in Charleston, Morgantown and Martinsburg, “believes that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with policies that allow patients to access affordable and quality health care, and she appreciates hearing directly from constituents about issues that matter to West Virginians,” according to a statement from her spokeswoman.
During the presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to repeal the ACA, although he recently suggested that parts of it might survive his term in office. In November, Trump told “60 Minutes” that he will try to keep the provision in the ACA that mandates insurers provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes. He also told The Wall Street Journal that he supports allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26.
But with an unclear future, supporters of the law are worried that the consequences of repeal could be devastating. Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, which supports the ACA, said activists plan to fight back against repeal.
“Health care is a life-and-death issue,” he said. “That’s why we’re here. Because if the ACA is repealed without an effective replacement, people will die.”