On Tuesday night, ahead of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address, Democrats presented a united front at Rep. Maxine Waters’ 3rd annual Millennial Media Row, bringing their message back to a core one — affordable and accessible health care for all.
“When we talk to our constituents, all of the members would come back and say the number one priority and what they’re most concerned about is health care. It’s health care because any family who has encountered it, whether it’s your children with chronic diseases, caring for your elders and seeing you personally having a crisis like cancer or heart disease, health care can devastate,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) told ESSENCE at the event. “You can be working, have a little savings, and it can be wiped out. Our seniors are then—in the later years of their lives—making decisions about paying for medicine or eating. So health care is the vein that takes care of so much of our quality of life.”
Lawrence brought as a guest Dr. Felix Valbuena, the CEO of the Community Health and Social Services Center, which provides medical care and other comprehensive services to bring attention to the need for continued funding of the work done in community health centers.
Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Illinois), a nurse with a pre-existing condition who knows the inside and outside of health care and its policy like a book, also noted that this was a top issue for her, which was also reflected in her SOTU guest of choice, Antioch nurse Karen Battaglia.
“Our care is directly being attacked and threatened by the president and his administration in this reckless repeal effort that’s going through the courts,” Underwood noted, nodding to the current Affordable Care Act case running through the legal system. “The Supreme Court is going to have to make a determination about the viability and future of the Affordable Care Act and those many protections that come with it. And so there is so much at stake this year and health care is number one, top of mind for me.”
“We are working on health care issues but more specifically, we’re working to lower costs, out-of-pocket costs for the American people. Lower premium prices. Deal with surprise medical bills,” the congresswoman, who is the youngest Black woman in office added. “We’re seeing prescription drug prices out of control. The House, we passed a bill allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug prices and all the rest, the Senate has just been chilling. It is unacceptable. People literally cannot afford their medicine. They are rationing and seeing the negative health impacts of that because the Senate can’t be bothered. I think it’s unacceptable. It’s dangerous and we can’t wait.”
Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) all also brought attention to the current health care crisis, highlighting their commitment with their chosen guests for the event.
“I believe that the American people really believe in health care. And so if [Trump] at all is interested in listening to the people around the country and hear their stories about what health insurance and health coverage means to them, he will rethink some of the actions he has taken, such as the lawsuit in Texas to repeal the ACA,” Lee’s guest, Sherry Hirota the CEO of Asian Health Services in Oakland said.
“Also, if he really wanted to show the public that he’s going to keep promises… He talked during his campaign about reducing the cost of prescription drugs. We passed a bill, H.R.3, that would reduce the cost of prescription drugs,” Lee added. “Sen. Mitch McConnell is holding that bill. He’s sitting on it and he won’t even move that out of the Senate. And so Donald Trump should ask Senator McConnell to send that bill to his desk so that [the cost of] prescription drugs will be reduced.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) solidified the message brought across by the Democrats, noting that this has been an issue that the party has been focused on from day one.
“Health care has been our number one priority, continues to be our number one priority, and it is the priority of the American people,” he said.