State Reps. Paul Mark and Tricia Farley-Bouvier were speakers for the event.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Congress will soon take up bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But hundreds of local residents took to Park Square on Saturday to oppose those efforts, joining thousands across the nation who have held rallies and packed congressional town halls.
The act passed under former President Barack Obama expanded health care coverage across the country. New President Donald Trump, however, has called it too costly and vowed to repeal and replace it. The debate over the repeal is expected to unfold shortly in Washington, D.C.
But here in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, which passed similar health-care reform (so-called Romneycare) a decade ago, residents are sending a message that the act shouldn't be repealed and any changes to it should move the country toward a single-payer system.
"There are thousands of people like us marching and rallying across the country today in support of the Affordable Care Act, in support of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security," said Casey Pease, who organized Saturday's rally.
"We are letting our elected officials know that they will not repeal, that they will not take our health care away. We need to move to a Medicare-for-all system."
Protests were organized in all parts of the nation on Saturday, all in defense of those social programs. State Rep. Paul Mark said he's been asked why such rallies are happening now and here.
"We are having a rally now because right now is when Trump and Speaker [Paul] Ryan and [Senate] Leader Mitch McConnell are deciding what they are going to put before Congress and we need to make sure in this stage of the process that we are letting our members of Congress — Congressman [Richard] Neal, Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren, Sen. [Edward] Markey — we are letting them know that we have their back. That want them to fight and we are going to be with them fighting every step of the way," Mark said.
Neal is a ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee so he'll have a role in the ongoing discussions, Mark said. The rally here in Massachusetts lets him know that his constituents support and want every effort made to protect those programs, he said.
"He can be a leader for us and we need to be there to make sure he knows we are supporting him," Mark said. "He is going to get attacked. He is going to get attacked on Twitter. He is going to get attacked in Breitbart. He is going to get attacked everywhere else by Trump with all the fake news and crap he's doing right now. They are going to be after him. But it doesn't matter because they know we support them."
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said that while Massachusetts has its own health care program, changes to the federal program could mean drastic impacts at home.
"You should be scared. You should be scared because as determined as we can be to protect the people of Massachusetts from the changes in the ACA, they're going to take a whole lot of money away from Massachusetts to do this," Farley-Bouvier said.
Later adding, "even though we are lucky to live in Massachusetts, we are still kind of screwed here."
She called on the crowd to continue to put pressure on Congress to protect the programs. The group, however, doesn't want to stop with just protecting those programs. It wants to move to a "Medicare for all" system.
"This isn't just about stopping cuts. Health care is a basic human right. The Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction but it was not the final step. Rather than reverse the progress we've made so far, we must build on it. The only true answer to our health care crisis is Medicare for all," said Massachusetts Nursing Association representative Mark Brodeur.
Brodeur is a registered nurse at Berkshire Medical Center. He says Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are the foundation of the health care system.
He said part of the proposed changes could include making maternity and prenatal care as "optional benefits" for insurance providers. But, Brodeur says babies whose mothers do not receive proper prenatal care are three times more likely to be underweight, and infant mortality rate is five times higher for those babies.
Nurse Mark Brodeur says the MNA opposes the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and wants a 'Medicare for all' program instead.
He is also worried that cuts to health care programs will put senior citizens and people with mental health issues further at risk. Brodeur said the MNA opposes any efforts to "undermine the public's access to affordable health care."
The local rally was organized by Pease with help from the progressive Democratic groups the Four Freedoms Coalition, Our Revolution, Progressive Democrats of America, Young Democrats of Massachusetts, College Democrats of Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts Young Democrats, Western Mass. Jobs with Justice. Also helping was the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Lyme Alliance of the Berkshires, and the Worthington Democratic Town Committee.
At age 19, Pease represented the younger generation. He said it is imperative that the next generation stands up for the important programs.
"I have to stand here in defense of my future and in defense of my fellow young people's future and let them know that the young people of this country are standing up and making our voices heard," Pease said. "Now more than ever it is important that we make our voices heard. We have an administration that doesn't want that when they try to block the press from reaching out."
The rally also received support from Mayor Linda Tyer, who was in attendance, state Sen. Adam Hinds, and Neal.
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