By CARTER WALKER
Times West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., visited Morgantown on Sunday to rally West Virginia residents to oppose the Republican health care bill.
Sanders held the rally in hopes of persuading his colleague, West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, to be a “no” vote on the American Health Care Act.
The AHCA, the Republican proposed replacement to the Affordable Care Act, or, “Obamacare,” recently passed in the House by a vote of 217-213. The bill is now before the Senate.
A vote was expected before the Independence Day recess, but none occurred.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Capito said that she thinks “changes and reforms to Medicaid are necessary. We can’t have an open pocketbook.”
In his hour-long speech, Sanders made his case for why he saw the bill as unacceptable. He said that as the bill is written, it would leave millions uninsured while giving tax breaks to the wealthy.
He also pointed toward West Virginia’s opioid crisis and the effects the bill would have on treatment of addiction as reason for opposing the bill.
Drug overdose deaths in West Virginia have been steadily increasing over the past several years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overdose deaths have risen from 570 in 2013, to 627 in 2014, and in the most recent CDC report, 725 in 2015.
He stated that cuts to medicaid proposed in the bill would lead to 17,000 West Virginia residents not having access to addiction treatment.
“That is criminal. That is absurd. We cannot allow that to happen,” Sanders said.
One of Sanders’ four introductory speakers was an addiction counselor from Morgantown, Emily Chilko. She said that when the ACA went into effect, it significantly helped those in her felid treat patients in an adequate manner where before they could not.
“The bill proposes to reinvent the wheel by creating these new grant funded addiction programs that some how could replace the programs that we have now,” Chilko said. “As a health care provider that sounds disastrous to me.”
Also speaking was Joel Beeson, a hemophiliac and the recipient of a liver transplant. Beeson shared his story of how the drugs he needed to help his blood form clots were so expensive that he reached his lifetime health care limit and his provider refused to continue paying for the drugs.
Beeson said that when Obamacare passed, the legislation saved his life.
“This isn’t a political movement, it’s about people,” Beeson said after the rally. “I think it’s important to oppose this legislation, which is really just a tax break for wealthy people, and is not taking into consideration what a majority of the people in this county want.”
Throughout his speech, Sanders repeated his call to Capito to vote “no” on the bill, saying it would cause massive damage to the country.
“My strong belief is that if Senator Capito votes no on this legislation, it will make all of the difference and this bill will die.”
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