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Health care concerns push constituents to hold their own town halls 

click to enlarge If you can't get your area elected official to show up for a town hall to hear constituents, do the next best thing and produce a life-sized cardboard cutout. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • If you can't get your area elected official to show up for a town hall to hear constituents, do the next best thing and produce a life-sized cardboard cutout.

Threaten a kid's health care coverage and you're sure to piss off his mom. Piss off enough moms and they'll get organized. Got a bunch of pissed-off moms organizing opposition in your district? That's a political threat.

Kristy Greenbrier, 38, is one such mom. Shy and busy, she never was politically active until November, when a man promising to do drastic but unspecified things to national health care policy was elected to the White House.

"I can't afford to be complacent anymore," she says. "I need to be able to tell my son I did everything I could to fight for him."

That's why she joined a network of other concerned citizens who are following the Indivisible guide — a strategic document written by Capitol Hill staffers to organize grassroots opposition to President Donald Trump and the Republican majority in Congress (indivisibleguide.com).

Across the country lately, followers of the manual have been incessantly bugging their representatives, home on recess, to hold or attend in-person town hall events. Some have done it, only to be chewed up by ferocious constituents.

(See: Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who retreated offstage amidst chants of "Do your job!" after he failed to satisfactorily explain why the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he chairs, won't investigate President Donald Trump's potentially compromising personal and business ties.)

Others haven't done it, only to be ambushed between private events by dogged constituents. (See: Colorado's own Sen. Cory Gardner, who got stuck in an elevator with one who filmed his cringe-worthy nonanswer about his limited availability.)

Locally, Indivisible-affiliated organizers invited U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn and Sen. Gardner to a town hall at a public library on the Northside of Colorado Springs. Neither showed, but the planned event went on without them the night of Feb. 22.

Those in attendance, an estimated 250 people, made a point to show they're not "paid protesters," as some Republicans, including Gardner, have claimed. To drive it home, they took a group selfie holding up their driver's licenses as proof that they're real, live residents of Colorado's 5th Congressional District.

Then, one by one, they got onstage to tell a story or ask a question, identifying themselves by ZIP code and proudly proclaiming that no one paid them to be there.

Greenbrier, the newbie activist, was first up to the mic. In an even tone, she explained how certain lesser-known provisions of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, affect her family.

Her 8-year-old son, Jameson, has a rare genetic disorder that means he can't speak, and he can't eat or use the toilet without assistance. His cognitive abilities and motor skills are both severely limited, requiring long-term care that would be impossibly expensive for his parents to afford out-of-pocket.

Under the ACA, Jameson qualified for a new Medicaid program that covers children with disabilities. Not only that, but habilitative care was covered in addition to rehabilitative care (e.g., you no longer need to have had and then lost a skill like speech in order to get speech therapy. Nonverbal children like Jameson, who never acquired language skills to begin with, are now covered for habilitative speech therapy.)

click to enlarge If you can't get your area elected official to show up for a town hall to hear constituents, do the next best thing and produce a life-sized cardboard cutout. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • If you can't get your area elected official to show up for a town hall to hear constituents, do the next best thing and produce a life-sized cardboard cutout.

All that helped immensely, but the biggest deal for their family came from a program that reimbursed Greenbrier for a nursing certification that let her become employed by a home health agency as Jameson's full-time caretaker.

So, instead of trying to make enough money to pay someone else to take care of her son, she's now paid through Medicaid to do it herself. The program isn't offered in every state, but here it keeps costs down for both families and the government.

After explaining all this, Greenbrier then asked — part rhetorically to the crowd and part pointedly into a video recording destined for her representative's office — whether her son will still have insurance under Republicans' not-yet-finalized replacement legislation.

Her question is a valid one. Conservative lawmakers, including our own, have been itching to get rid of Democrats' historic health care reform since it became law in 2010. Now, nothing stands between Republicans and their health care paradise except themselves.

Trump's pronouncement that "repeal and replace" should happen right away proved naïve as it became clear that Republicans don't actually have the "replace" part of the equation figured out yet. Trump adjusted expectations for a legislative plan to next month, but policy details of the few draft plans floating around the Capitol are so thin that consensus on a deadline seems a distant prospect.

Colorado's Republican delegation to Congress has made few firm commitments on the topic beyond the party line that Obamacare will get repealed and its replacement will be better.

Rep. Lamborn stated as much during his annual State of the District speech at Cheyenne Mountain Resort on Feb. 24, hosted by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC. There, he acknowledged that "some people have been helped by Obamacare, but it's done more harm than good."

He cited rising premiums and the limited number of available plans as proof of that harm. Some popular provisions, like children being able to stay on parents' plans until 26, will stay. As for people with preexisting conditions, requiring states to provide high-risk insurance pools will solve that, the congressman said.

Those words did not satisfy Greenbrier, who was among a 10-person table of other critics who opted to pay $55 for a seat at the luncheon rather than picket outside as about 25 others did. She waited until the end of the program for the room to clear out to catch a moment with her congressman, who she said hasn't answered the dozens of voicemails, emails and letters she had sent his way over the past several months.

Finally, a nervous but composed Greenbrier got the chance to tell Rep. Lamborn exactly how her family relies on certain ACA programs and ask whether he'll fight to keep them.

As she expected, Lamborn couldn't answer in the affirmative. "I had to try," she said before leaving.

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