From the Field: Reporting from Sen. Blumenthal’s (D-CT) Emergency Hearing on the American Healthcare Act in Hartford, Connecticut

Crammed into Room 310 of the Connecticut State Capitol, upwards of two hundred people were sweating through their shirts. At the front of the room stood U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, braving the heat in a full suit after having called an “emergency field hearing” on healthcare in response to GOP secrecy. If the Republican Congress won’t have a hearing, the Senator though, I’ll have one myself. I watched from the doorway and back of the room as dozens of the over-capacity crowd (about a dozen people watched on TV monitors in the hall) rose and gave testimony. The hearing was so popular that a second was announced in New Haven on Friday, June 23.

Those speaking came from all around Connecticut. They were government officials, healthcare advocates, union advocates, but above all, they were concerned people with terrible, heart-wrenching stories. They spoke about healthcare from every possible angle: state concerns, national concerns, mental health, physical health, etc. Before I go into highlights, I want to specifically draw attention to a line I cannot remember who said: “What number of lives lost will be enough?” Where will the Republican Party draw the line?

Highlights:

  • One of the first to speak was Ted Doolittle, head of the Office of the Healthcare Advocate and appointee of the governor. He attacked the AHCA for magnifying already-existing problems with healthcare, saying (to paraphrase) that taking any money out of the incredibly expensive healthcare system would cripple it. He ended his testimony with an impassioned call for a national single-payer system.
  • Tim Foley, Director of the Connecticut State Council of the Service Employees International Union, the second largest union in the country, predicted that the Republican healthcare plan would create “huge, if not insurmountable problems” for the already suffering Connecticut state budget. He also noted that “eighty percent of a bad bill is still a bad bill,” referencing Texas Senator John Cornyn’s remark that, “80 percent of what the House did we’re likely to do.”
  • Shawn Lang, Deputy Director of AIDS Connecticut, invoked the early days of the AIDS epidemic and asserted that the American Healthcare Act as passed by the House “would bring us back to the early days of the plague” of AIDS. She also noted that many AIDS sufferers would be doubly hit, as many are over fifty, afflicted by the opioid epidemic, and subject to mental health issues as well.
  • Advocates for both mental health and children’s health noted that there was incredible progress in those fields in Connecticut in recent years, but passage of AHCA would halt that progress.
  • Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, attacked Republican secrecy and rushing of the AHCA specifically. It would be “devastating,” she said, to force a vote before the July 4th recess, which is rumored to be the GOP plan, and without due time for debate, a CBO score, or amendments.
  • One of the most moving testimonies came from Jennifer Kelly, a mother whose daughter had suffered a heroin overdose in 2015. She focused mainly on a need to increase funding for addiction research and help to victims, especially during, “the worst heroin epidemic we’ve ever seen.”

~Ridgley Knapp

 

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