The health care landscape shifted quickly this week as the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate fell short of the votes needed to adopt a new bill, and failed again to muster the support required to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
As the saga played out in Washington, D.C., a group of protesters gathered in front of Sen. Steve Daines’ office in Missoula on Tuesday afternoon to hold a symbolic “die-in” intended to get the senator’s attention on health care.
Earlier in the day, Daines had announced his support for a full repeal of the ACA – a stance that concerned local protesters.
“Our message is pretty simple,” said organizer Cameron Best. “We’re asking him to vote no on repeal and no on repeal and replace. We want to show Daines that either choice has real consequences for Montanans.”
The protesters, roughly 20 in number, gathered in hopes of meeting with members of the senator’s staff. However, the office was locked and a sign inside the door read: “We are sorry to have missed you.”
The perceived lack of access to the state’s Republican senator has led to growing frustrations within the Missoula community. Daines has held several tele-town halls over the past few months but has declined offers to appear in person before voters, including a recent request from the Montana World Affairs Council.
“He literally has his finger in the wind,” Best said, questioning Daines’ leadership on health care. “We don’t want a senator who’s interested in what the repercussions are in Washington, D.C. We want a senator concerned with us here in Montana. We want universal health care, and we want him to show up for a town hall. A tele-town hall is not a town hall.”
This week, Daines expressed concerns over the cost of Medicaid expansion and the impacts it could have on the state budget. He also believes that the ACA is collapsing and will continue to do so without a solid replacement.
“Steve welcomes the opinions of everyone across Montana,” Daines spokesperson Katie Waldman said. “However, he respectfully disagrees that we need to keep Obamacare.”
Waldman did not respond to questions regarding the senator’s take on the GOP’s current health care efforts, which remained in limbo on Wednesday.
Like other protesters, Dana Boussard disagreed with Daines’ position on health care, saying he has not offered any solutions to improve the system’s flaws. She also questioned why Daines was difficult to access, saying she can’t remember the last time he appeared in Missoula.
“He doesn’t care much about answering to the people of Montana since he’s never around for anyone to see and talk to in person,” she said. “He only gives teleconferences, and I’m sure the questions are pre-screened so he doesn’t have to answer questions that are difficult for him to answer.”
President Donald Trump won Montana by 20 points on a platform that looked to repeal and replace Obamacare. Still, Boussard suggested, efforts by the GOP to follow through with that pledge have grown increasingly unpopular.
She suggested Daines was towing the party line while excusing Montanans’ health care concerns.
“He’s very concerned about his own election, and we’re very concerned about his election too,” she said. “If he continues pushing for ‘Trumpcare’ and a repeal of ‘Obamacare,’ we’ll very much look for another candidate for his Senate seat.”
As the protesters assumed a death pose in front of the senator’s locked office door holding signs reading “RIP” and “Slow death from cancer,” Angel Coble expressed concerns over her own health future and how she’ll pay for chemotherapy if the GOP succeeds in repealing in the ACA.
Coble, who said she was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, sat in a chair holding a sign reading “The ACA saved my life.” She said the chemo treatments cost $25,000 per session – a price that lies well beyond her reach.
“I just spent 16 days in the hospital, and if it weren’t for Montana Healthy Access, I wouldn’t be here,” said Coble. “If I could meet with Daines, I would tell him not to take away my health care. It’s a basic human right. I deserve the right to help people, and I deserve the right to be helped.”
Natalie Margolis also expressed frustration with Daines not meeting directly with Montana voters.
“It’s blatantly obvious to everyone that Daines only cares about profits and not about the health of our society or people,” said Margolis. “He’s not providing any alternatives. He’s not showing any leadership. He’s just following along with the horrible ideas that are being proposed so the rich can get richer and poor get poorer.”