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Democrats lay out arguments against federal health care bills

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota tells a Minneapolis audience Wednesday, July 5, 2017, that Republican federal health care plans would hurt Minnesota. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
James Robinson of Minneapolis says on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, that federal Medicaid and other funds support programs that have helped him kick addictions and start a healthy life. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
All eyes are on James Robinson of Minneapolis Wednesday, July 5, 2017, as he talks about the success he found in federally supported programs that he fears could disappear under current congressional proposals. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

MINNEAPOLIS — James Robinson has no doubt federally funded programs saved him.

"If it wasn't for the funding of these programs ... there wouldn't be programs that say, 'You deserve to live,'" the Minneapolis resident Wednesday, July 5, told reporters and a crowd supporting Medicaid and other federal programs they fear could be cut or eliminated by Republican-written federal health care legislation.

"You haven't walked a mile in my shoes," he said to those who would cut health funding. "You don't know what it is like."

He talked about his alcoholism and other addiction problems, and how Medicaid (known as Medical Assistance in Minnesota) paid for treatment that helped him.

The treatment center, he said, "introduced me to a new way of life. ... I found it a tremendous way to live."

If the GOP plan passes, Robinson added, "there is no options for treatment; then people are going to fall sick."

Another Minneapolis resident, Tina Webb, said the Medical Assistance program also helped her. "There is a lot of people out there who cannot get their lives together ... as far as getting off drugs and alcohol."

The two joined top Minnesota Democrats in urging people to reject the Republican plan. The gathering was at the North Point Health and Fitness Center in the center of a financially depressed and mostly black area of North Minneapolis.

The federal House and Senate plans are similar, both cutting more than 20 million Americans off Medicaid, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The Senate plan keeps existing subsidies in place for two years, providing help to people who otherwise may not be able to afford health insurance. Senate and House versions of the bill replace subsidies with tax credits.

Both congressional plans would eliminate federal requirement in a law popularly known as Obamacare that everyone carry insurance.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky last week delayed a planned vote on the GOP health care plan. He lost support of some conservative and moderate senators, and with just a two-vote advantage over Democrats he did not think he could pass the bill.

It is not known when, or if, the plan written in secret will receive a vote.

U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, serving the southern Twin Cities and greater Minnesota areas to the south, is like many Republicans who say they are fulfilling promises to overturn federal health law.

"Obamacare is continuing to collapse," he said after voting for the House Republican health care bill in early May. "The (House) American Health Care Act's much-needed relief includes lower premiums, universal access and greater patient choice. We also continue the important missions of protecting the vulnerable and ensuring that no-one can be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition."

Top Minnesota Democratic officials say the congressional health care bills would force the state to raid other programs to keep health aid flowing.

The Republican-written Senate plan would "put significant strain on our state budget for years to come," Human Service Commissioner Emily Piper wrote Wednesday to the state's congressional delegation.

Piper joined Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, who also is Democratic National Committee deputy chairman, at North Point.

Piper said greater Minnesota faces special concerns about Hosue and Senate bills.

People caught up in a crisis of opioid addiction, especially felt in greater Minnesota, rely on federal money for treatment, Piper said. That is especially true for children of opioid addicts, she added.

The state-subsidized health insurance program MinnesotaCare could be abolished under the Republican plan, the commissioner said. That is used by a higher percentage of rural Minnesotans, especially farmers who have no employers to provide insurance.

North Point Chief Executive Officer Stella Whitney-West said her area had a 40 percent uninsured rate before Obamacare was passed. Now it is 26 percent.

However, she added, some community clinics in greater Minnesota retain uninsured rates of up to 56 percent.

Ellison urged Minnesotans to let federal senators and representatives know their feelings about health care legislation. Seven of the state's 10 members of Congress are Democrats, including both senators.

"This is go time," Ellison said about speaking up.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.