Government & Politics

Protesters ‘keep the pressure’ on Moran as Senate weighs changes to health care bill

Rally for health care at Sen. Jerry Moran's office

Dozens attended a rally pushing for a fair health care bill Wednesday afternoon at U.S. Sen. Jerry Morgan's Olathe office.
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Dozens attended a rally pushing for a fair health care bill Wednesday afternoon at U.S. Sen. Jerry Morgan's Olathe office.

Nearly 100 protesters gathered outside U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s Olathe office Wednesday, a day after the Kansas Republican came out against a controversial health care bill backed by Republican leadership.

Moran has emerged as a key swing vote in the fight over the legislation that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, and health care activists in Olathe stressed the need to continue pressing the senator on the issue as GOP leadership looks to make tweaks to the bill after delaying a vote until after July 4.

“I appreciate that he came out with his statement, but I think people still have to keep the pressure up,” said Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Topeka-based Health Reform Resource Project. “We can’t just say, well, he came out against this bill so we have to just let it go, because they’re going to have a new version of the bill.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the current Senate bill would reduce the number of people with health coverage by 22 million by 2026. Weisgrau said he wants Moran to commit to opposing any plan that reduces coverage or increases out-of-pocket health care costs.

Moran, who will hold a town hall in Palco, Kan., next week, is the only GOP lawmaker from the region to speak out against the bill. Every Republican House member from Kansas and Missouri voted for the House version, and U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Roy Blunt of Missouri have indicated support for the Senate version.

Todd Stone, a 46-year-old small-business owner from Olathe, called Moran’s decision to speak out against the bill an act of courage.

Stone’s college-age son suffers from primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver disorder, and Stone is worried that his son will be unable to obtain health coverage in the future if the Affordable Care Act’s protections for pre-existing conditions are weakened.

“What happens when he turns 27? What happens if he can’t work a full-time job? What happens if he’s working a full-time job and he loses it? These are all things that the ACA addresses, but the current (Senate) plan will leave him in a position of financial destitution or long-term sickness,” said Stone, a lifelong Republican who said he began voting for Democrats last year partially out of frustration with repeal efforts.

Moran’s office did not comment on the Olathe protest, but it sent out a news release touting praise the senator had received from health organization for opposing the current version of the bill.

Courtney Eiterich, a 42-year-old Lenexa resident with multiple sclerosis who receives a federal subsidy to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act, said the medications she takes cost $14,000 a month.

“Ultimately, if I can’t buy insurance, they may be forcing me into a position where I apply for disability,” said Eiterich, who works as a substitute teacher and runs a small wine-selling business.

Chris Miller, 61, an early childhood special education teacher from Parsons, drove to Olathe from southeast Kansas to protest the bill’s cuts to Medicaid.

“I work with infants and toddlers with disabilities. Southeast Kansas is a very poor part of the country, and so most of the kids that we serve are on Medicaid. Many have very terrible health issues, and they would die if they didn’t have Medicaid,” said Miller, who works for Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Service Center.

The bill would change the way Medicaid funding to states is calculated, reducing federal spending on the program, which provides health coverage to disabled people and low-income families, by $772 billion over a 10-year period.

The region’s other lawmakers are also facing pressure from a variety of interest groups as the Senate weighs the bill, which is being pushed by President Donald Trump.

Blunt pointed to the fact that 25 Missouri counties will be without an insurer participating in the Affordable Care Act’s health exchange, also called Obamacare, next year after Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City announced plans to pull out of the exchange.

“The status quo is unsustainable,” Blunt said in a statement. “The Senate draft health care legislation is not perfect, but it takes some important steps to help families and small businesses that are struggling under Obamacare. In the days ahead, we will continue looking at ways we can improve the bill and get it to the president’s desk.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, has proposed that people in counties without an insurer be allowed to buy from the same exchange as members of Congress.

“I’m not interested in just throwing stones, I’m ready to work with anyone to improve health care for Missourians,” McCaskill said.

America First Policies, a pro-Trump nonprofit, launched ads against McCaskill and other Democratic lawmakers Wednesday. The group had previously aired ads against U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, who has criticized the bill.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3