Authorities detained six protesters Monday who refused to leave Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s Charleston office without an assurance that she will oppose the U.S. Senate’s rewrite of the American Health Care Act.
Kayla Parker, Joe Solomon, Terry Pickett, Jim Lewis, Bill Price and Paul Dalzell were taken out of the office complex in handcuffs at roughly 5:30 p.m. All six said they were prepared and willing to be arrested from the onset of the protest.
“I came here today to say to Shelley Moore Capito that we will not leave here until she votes no on this health care bill or we are taken out by arrest,” Price said. “At that, it’s almost 5 o’clock, and we are determined.”
The arrests came amid a flurry of citizen activism with related protests occurring outside Capito’s office starting just after noon. Roughly 75 people rallied outside the building, urging the West Virginia Republican to vote against the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, the formal title of the Senate’s rewrite of the House’s AHCA.
Pickett, one of the six in Capito’s office, said she had no plans to leave without Capito’s word.
“We are committed to staying here until she commits to voting no on the bill,” Pickett said. “We are prepared to stay here as long as necessary.”
Solomon contacted a reporter Monday evening and said he and the others were charged with trespassing. They are due to appear in Charleston Municipal Court on Aug. 9. They were released from police custody Monday evening.
Before they were detained, Ashley Berrang, a spokeswoman for Capito, said she did not know if the protesters would be arrested, although she was aware of the situation and the building’s 5 p.m. closing time. She held her office’s position that Capito is reviewing the bill and not ready to make a statement for or against it.
“Sen. Capito knows that many are passionate about this issue, and she is listening to their concerns,” she said. “She has reviewed the legislation extensively and is working to improve provisions related to Medicaid and treatment for drug abuse.”
Just after 5 p.m., Mary Elisabeth Eckerson, Capito’s state director, notified the protesters that she had to close the office and gave them an out to leave. They declined. Eckerson declined to comment for this report.
Hours before the arrests, protesters sang old union songs outside the building, chanted for Capito to vote against the bill and waved banners and picket signs to the same effect.
Gary Zuckett, executive director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, helped organize the event. He said he and the organization put the event together to put pressure on Capito to vote on behalf of her constituents, many of whom could lose their health care because of the bill.
“The idea is, we need to send a message to Sen. Capito that this is not an acceptable direction for our country to be going,” he said. “It’s going to hurt West Virginia, it’s going to hurt our economy, it’s going to put a lot of the rural health clinics at risk, it may close some rural hospitals. It’s definitely going to harm her constituents when they lose their health care coverage, especially with the Medicaid expansion.”
Because West Virginia expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, 172,605 citizens receive health care, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Long-term funding for Medicaid is under threat from the new bill. Citizens are hoping this will lead to Capito joining a slowly growing number of Republican senators who have said they won’t vote for the bill as is.
One woman at the rally, Barbara Schau, has worked as a nurse for 40 years. She said the bill has several problems. Chief among them for West Virginia, she said, is that rural hospitals depend on Medicaid reimbursements to stay in business and, when Medicaid funding is reduced, they might not be able to stay open.
She also said there are issues with taking away health care from poor citizens who rely on Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“They’re taking away basic health coverage from the poorest of our population,” she said. “It’s a sin, it’s nothing less than a sin.”
Along with the citizens, at least one politician came out to join the protest. Delegate Rodney Pyles, D-Monongalia, attended the protest, as well, after the Legislature adjourned its special session on the budget.
He said he attended because he felt the new health care bill is “bad, mean and nasty,” and would lead to thousands of West Virginians losing their health care. He said Capito should vote against the bill, and said his opinion comes from personal interaction with the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
“[Capito] needs to show a little bit of heart and cast a vote against this bill,” he said. “I’m personally affected, in a way, because I have a daughter with a pre-existing condition who wouldn’t have health insurance coverage today if it weren’t for the Affordable Care Act.”
According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the GOP bill, 22 million fewer Americans would have health insurance by 2026 than they would under the ACA. The CBO estimated that figure at 23 million in the House-passed bill and 24 million in its original form.
The six protesters were not the first to be detained in connection to activity regarding the AHCA. A journalist was arrested in May when trying to ask U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a question about whether domestic abuse qualifies as a pre-existing condition that could warrant higher premiums from insurers.