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United They Stand, Dems Bring Repeal Battle to the Public…

One view of the crowd as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speask (WMassP&I)

BOSTON—With Republicans in Washington poised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, legislation that has delivered healthcare to millions of Americans, Democrats nationwide Sunday held rallies to push back. The GOP has cued up language to strike the most important parts of the law shortly after real estate tycoon and provocateur Donald Trump becomes president Friday.

Several thousand gathered outside Faneuil Hall after response exceeded capacity inside. With a lineup that featured Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, both US Senators, much of the House delegation and a few personal testimonials, advocates of the law pressed a case its continuance and against the bedlam its repeal would unleash.

Taking great pains to emphasize the attempted repeal and not let the event become about any one of the speakers, each mostly took turns at the lectern. Only at the end did all the pols appear together. Yet US Senator Elizabeth Warren may have pitched a slogan for the weeks ahead, “repeal and run.”

As several speakers noted, eleven years ago inside Faneuil Hall, then-Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, signed Massachusetts’s universal healthcare law as Democratic US Senator Edward Kennedy looked on. The state law became the template for the ACA.

Sen. Warren at Faneuil Hall Sunday (WMassP&I)

Still, the emphasis was on Republicans’ rush to reverse the 2010 law with little or nothing to take its place. Republicans have claimed for years they would supplant the law with something that achieves the same ends. Nothing has emerged so far.

Nevertheless, Warren said, Republicans would “never lift a single finger to try to make [the ACA] better!”

Beyond Boston, Hundreds gathered in Johnston, Rhode Island. The Hartford Courant reported a crowd of a thousand on the Connecticut State House steps facing Bushnell Park. Meanwhile, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was in Michigan whipping up a large crowd in Warren, a suburb of Detroit. In Nevada, supporters used the hashtag “care not chaos” to describe the situation.

The event here moved outdoors after the response to Markey and Warren’s pitch to supporters returned RSVP’s in the thousands. The Great Hall at Faneuil Hall seats 800, but organizers realized midweek that would not be enough. A planned overflow area outside Faneuil Hall morphed into the rally itself.

Estimates put the turnout at about 6,000 with participants crowding the balconies of nearby plazas and Government Center. Although rare for the chilly season, Faneuil Hall Market Place—also known as Quincy Market—teemed with visitors, many sporting stickers from the rally.

Besides the politicians, speakers included a hospital administrator, the daughter of a cancer patient who benefited and the mother of person felled by addiction. All laid out the law’s impact in real, raw terms.

Jan McGrory, whose daughter died of a drug overdose, declare this was exactly the wrong time to pull care for those battling substance abuse.

Sarah Grubb described cancer’s hold on her mother, broken only by lengthy and expensive treatment. The ACA’s end on lifetime caps made her mother’s care possible Grubb said. Toshe is well and attended Grubb’s recent wedding. “You can’t place a value on that.”

Countering calls to junk the law, Grubb said, “I hear, ‘people like my mom don’t deserve a chance to save their lives.’”

Ground zero for repeal and…not sure what next. (WMassP&I)

Republicans bristle at such suggestions, but as Warren noted, they have not exactly come up with something that cover as many as the Affordable Care Act with all its flaws. Confusion and vagueness ripples through the GOP majorities in Washington over replacement options.

Consistent with more traditional Republican ideology, such as that of House Speaker Paul Ryan, one idea has been establishing high-risk pools separate from the regular market. That might push the premiums of healthy insureds down. However, high-risk pools could cost the government as much as under the ACA, if properly funded. If not, there may be no guarantee of care. Meanwhile, poorer Americans may remain priced out of the market without the Medicaid expansion.

Mayor Walsh, quoting Martin Luther King, said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Mayor Walsh, Senators Markey & Warren, and seven of the state’s nine congressman came back out to the stage at the end. (WMassP&I)

Senator Edward Markey exhorted the crowd to “build a new movement of resistance for those who have too little.”

Springfield Congressman Richard Neal, joining the stage now as Democrats’ top member of the House Committee on Ways & Means, took on critiques, too. Responding to Republican’s “did you read the bill” 2010 mantra, he said, “Yeah, I helped to write it!”

Defending the mandate, he said it was a way to keep people from gaming the system. “we should allow people to buy auto insurance after an accident,” he said as a parallel to health insurance.

There were critics in the crowd. Sporadic calls for single-payer bubbled up during the speeches. Worcester Congressman James McGovern admitted the law was “not perfect” and omitted his desire for a public option. But he mocked Republicans’ plans as “Take two tax breaks and call me in the morning.”

Overflow on the balcony on 60 State Street’s plaza next to Faneuil Hall. (WMassP&I)

Still the absence of a replacement remains the gaping hole in Republican designs to end the law—McGovern mentioned Trump’s promise to replace it with “something terrific.”

It looked like Republicans might delay repeal pending replacement, which could still throttle the healthcare system with uncertainty. Then Trump panned the idea. In a Washington Post interview, Trump promised everybody would be “beautifully covered” under his plan. Yet, he would reveal no details until the Senate confirmed his nominee for Health and Human Services, Thomas Price.

His comments seemingly left the impression his plan would be remarkable similar to the ACA. That puts Republicans behind the eight ball. Perhaps repeal opponents’ mantra of “repeal and run” had an impact.

Stories about the law’s successes were less effective in the past, as those essentially tried to prove a negative in voters’ minds. Whether Americans conceptualized it that way is beside the point. But taking care away from people is tangible and can tug at heartstrings.

“This is what this is about,” Warren said after Grubb spoke. “Healthcare is about our families.”