JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – Hundreds of people joined Rhode Island’s Democratic congressional delegation and other top leaders Sunday to rally in support of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have promised to repeal.
“They had seven years to build an alternative,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said to a crowd of hundreds at the Johnston Senior Center. “And what’ve they got? Nothing.”
Trump and Republican leaders have said they plan to replace the health law with something else, though the alternative proposal has not been publicly disclosed.
“It’s like asking someone to jump out of an airplane with no parachute, and say ‘trust me, we’ll build a parachute for you while you’re falling,’” Whitehouse said.
The Affordable Care Act has been credited with bringing the country’s uninsured rate down to its lowest rate in history. It also prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against customers for pre-existing conditions, allows young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, and expanded Medicaid to more Americans under a certain income level. States had a choice to opt in or out of the Medicaid expansion. But Republicans say the law is too expensive and has not done enough to bring down costs.
“This is a program that is helping millions of people across the country,” Sen. Jack Reed said in an interview with Eyewitness News. “You can’t take it away, particularly without any replacement. That’ll just cause a new hardship and undue economic uncertainty.”
In Rhode Island, about 100,000 people have health insurance as a direct result of Obamacare: 30,000 are insured through HealthSource RI, the state marketplace set up under the law, and 70,000 are insured through the Medicaid expansion.
“If we make enough noise, we can try to prevent this,” Gov. Gina Raimondo told the crowd. “We will prevent this, and we’ll save lives.”
So many people attended the event that the building reached capacity and police had to keep dozens more attendees outside. Similar rallies took place across the country, including one headlined by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Gina Rombley, a small business owner, told the crowd about her personal experience with Obamacare. She said before the health law was enacted, she tried to get insurance on the private market. When her insurance company didn’t pay her medical providers, she found out they were under investigation for doing the same to other customers. She ended up being on the hook for the bills, and now has insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
“When it came time to enroll, we were probably the first people on that computer,” Rombley said. “I depend on it.”
Both the U.S. House and Senate passed resolutions last week that set the stage for the repeal of Obamacare.
“It was the most reckless, irresponsible decision I’ve seen since I got to Congress,” Congressman David Cicilline said. He said many of his colleagues in Congress tell him they plan to keep the more favorable aspects of Obamacare, but still won’t disclose the details of their replacement law.
“Where’s your plan?” he said. “Let us look at it and understand.”
Cicilline’s House colleague from Rhode Island, Congressman Jim Langevin, said there’s no reason to repeal the law.
“Fix the problems that may exist with it, but don’t repeal it,” Langevin said. “It’s doing too much good.”
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, has said Obamacare is “collapsing,” citing high premiums and costs.
“We have plenty of ideas on how to replace it,” Ryan recently told reporters on Capitol Hill, declining to go into detail. “You’ll see as the weeks and months unfold.”
President-elect Trump has said he wants the replacement plan to pass as soon as possible after the repeal of Obamacare. He has signaled support for keeping some aspects of the law, including allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plans and the prohibition on discriminating against customers with pre-existing conditions.