“We matter”: Dozens with pre-existing conditions stage D.C. sit-in over GOP health care bill


Marthella Johnson was born with one kidney. At a young age, the 42-year-old resident of Little Rock, Arkansas, developed kidney stones.

Before the Affordable Care Act, many insurers considered kidney stones a pre-existing condition and wouldn’t insure people like Johnson. After it went into effect, Johnson said she was able to buy insurance through her state’s marketplace.

That could change if Congressional Republicans get their way and the ACA is repealed. Insurance companies could once again be allowed to refuse to sell insurance to people like Johnson, or to sell them insurance at a much higher cost.

That’s why Johnson and more than 100 others came from at least 21 states to Washington, D.C., on Monday to protest a bill currently before the U.S. Senate that would repeal much of the ACA and replace it with a market-oriented system.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, as it’s known, would drive up costs for the sick and the old, most experts said.

“There’s a lot of Arkansans that need insurance, and it needs to be affordable for us,” Johnson said in an interview Monday. “Think about the people you’re representing that aren’t privileged enough to be able to pay for hospital visits and prescriptions: the working-class community. We matter. Think about the lives you’re going to destroy if you push this bill through.”

“We matter. Think about the lives you’re going to destroy if you push this bill through.”

The protesters, along with doctors, nurses and home health aides, came from as far as Alaska to attend the event. The demonstration has been dubbed “Don’t Kill Me, Kill the Bill” by its organizers at the Center for Popular Democracy, a liberal non-profit.

The protesters plan to “occupy” the offices of their members of Congress. The sit-ins were scheduled to begin at 12:30 Eastern.

“If people don’t have access to care, they’re going to die,” Olga Irwin, 50, of Ohio, said Monday.

Irwin, who drove to Washington from Ohio, said she was diagnosed with AIDS 20 years ago. Without her medication, doctors told her she would have six months to a year to live.

Her medication costs $1,000 per month. Not only that, but it has caused her to develop other conditions, including kidney problems, colon problems and diabetes, she said. Four years ago, she had a pacemaker installed, and two years ago, she underwent heart bypass surgery.

“I’m looking at the pre-existing conditions of a 70-year-old person,” Irwin said. “That’s a lot of conditions to deal with all at once, you know?”

July 10, 2017, 2:16 p.m.: This story has been updated.