Scores protest health-care bill at Cot­ton, Booz­man of­fices

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - ANDY DAVIS

In demon­stra­tions in Lit­tle Rock, Jones­boro and Spring­dale on Thurs­day, dozens of people urged U.S. Sens. Tom Cot­ton and John Booz­man to op­pose the Sen­ate Repub­li­can health care bill.

In Lit­tle Rock, about 60 people, in­clud­ing sev­eral wheel­chair users, took turns hold­ing signs, singing, chant­ing and telling per­sonal sto­ries in the lob­bies of the two se­na­tors’ of­fices in the Vic­tory Build­ing, near the state Capi­tol. More than two dozen others held signs on the side­walk out­side.

“We talk about ter­ror­ism — I feel ter­ror­ized now,” Lewis Shep­pard, 62, of North Lit­tle Rock said in the lobby of Cot­ton’s Lit­tle Rock of­fice.

He said he re­lies on Med­i­caid to pay for his doc­tor vis­its and pre­scrip­tions for high blood pres­sure, di­a­betes and choles­terol, and wor­ries about the cuts to Med­i­caid that are in the Sen­ate bill.

“I’m afraid that I may not live longer if I don’t get the proper care and the medicine that I need,” said Shep­pard, whose legs were am­pu­tated dur­ing an op­er­a­tion to treat an aneurysm in 2013.

Out­side Cot­ton’s of­fice in Spring­dale, about 20 pro­test­ers held signs, in­clud­ing a few who waved Amer­i­can flags from their wheel­chairs and others who waved at the oc­ca­sional honk­ing motorist.

In Jones­boro, about 10 people held signs and waved at mo­torists out­side the Union Street build­ing where Cot­ton and Booz­man lease of­fices.

“This bill im­pacts ev­ery Arkansan,” said Ethan Wil­liams of Corn­ing, who or­ga­nized the protest. “We can’t just sit at home and let it hap­pen.”

The group stood un­der a large or­nate clock by the Jones­boro build­ing that chimed loudly ev­ery 15 min­utes. At noon, the clock bonged 12 times and then played a deaf­en­ing ver­sion of the na­tional an­them.

Mo­torists drove past the build­ing, stop­ping at an in­ter­sec­tion and reading the var­i­ous signs. A Jones­boro po­lice of­fi­cer waved to the crowd.

The demon­stra­tions were among sev­eral held in Arkansas and across the coun­try in re­cent weeks tar­get­ing pro­pos­als in Con­gress to over­haul much of the 2010 Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act.

Our Rev­o­lu­tion, a group founded by mem­bers of U.S. Sen. Bernie San­ders’ failed cam­paign for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion in last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, said in

Out­side Cot­ton’s of­fice in Spring­dale, about 20 pro­test­ers held signs, in­clud­ing a few who waved Amer­i­can flags from their wheel­chairs and others who waved at the oc­ca­sional honk­ing motorist.

a Face­book post sit-ins in Arkansas and else­where were in­spired by a June 22 protest. That demon­stra­tion by dis­abled ac­tivists at Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell’s of­fice in Wash­ing­ton re­sulted in 43 ar­rests.

Among the groups par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Arkansas protests were the dis­abil­ity rights group Arkansas ADAPT, Planned Par­ent­hood Great Plains, Arkansas Com­mu­nity Or­ga­ni­za­tions and lo­cal chap­ters of In­di­vis­i­ble, which was formed to op­pose Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s agenda.

The Sen­ate bill would phase out en­hanced fund­ing for states, such as Arkansas, that ex­panded their Med­i­caid pro­grams and im­pose caps on spend­ing for other Med­i­caid re­cip­i­ents, in­clud­ing chil­dren from low-in­come fam­i­lies and poor people who are el­derly and dis­abled.

It would also scale back tax-credit sub­si­dies help­ing those who don’t qual­ify for Med­i­caid buy health in­sur­ance, and it would cut taxes — im­posed un­der the 2010 law to help pay for the ben­e­fits — on in­sur­ers, drug com­pa­nies and high-in­come house­holds.

The non­par­ti­san Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice es­ti­mated that the Sen­ate bill would in­crease the num­ber of Amer­i­cans with­out health in­sur­ance by 22 mil­lion people by 2026 while de­creas­ing the num­ber of people cov­ered by Med­i­caid by 15 mil­lion.

At the Lit­tle Rock protest, LeDante Walker, 40, who lost the use of his legs and arms when he was in­jured in a car ac­ci­dent in 1997, said Med­i­caid pays for an at­ten­dant who helps him with tasks such as get­ting dressed, bathing and pre­par­ing meals ev­ery day.

Cuts to Med­i­caid would af­fect not only him, but other dis­abled in­di­vid­u­als he helps as a part-time staff mem­ber with Spa Area In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Ser­vices in Hot Springs, Walker said.

“Their big­gest fear is los­ing the ser­vices that they have,” he said.

Although Cot­ton was one of 13 se­na­tors as­signed to write the health care bill, his spokesman has said he merely pro­vided in­put to McCon­nell and didn’t see the fin­ished bill un­til the day it was re­leased to the pub­lic last month.

On Thurs­day, Cot­ton was in Mex­ico “on busi­ness re­lated to his role on the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee,” spokesman Dy­lan Haney said in an email.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Fron­teras Desk — which de­scribes it­self as a news ser­vice sup­ported by pub­lic ra­dio sta­tions in the south­west United States — Cot­ton, CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo and Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly met with Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto on Wed­nes­day to dis­cuss “or­ga­nized crime, re­gional se­cu­rity and eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion.”

Haney said Cot­ton is still re­view­ing the health care leg­is­la­tion.

Booz­man met with “lo­cal lead­ers” in Fordyce on Thurs­day and vis­ited a ser­vice in Arkadel­phia that pro­vides free meals to chil­dren dur­ing the sum­mer, spokesman Pa­trick Creamer said in an email.

In a state­ment on his web­site, Booz­man said McCon­nell’s de­ci­sion to de­lay a vote on the Sen­ate bill un­til after Con­gress’ Fourth of July re­cess “shows that Sen­ate lead­er­ship un­der­stands there are a num­ber of con­cerns within the cau­cus about the orig­i­nal work­ing draft.”

“We are dis­cussing pos­si­ble amend­ments that will im­prove the ex­ist­ing frame­work as we con­tinue to work to­ward im­prov­ing health­care for all Amer­i­cans,” Booz­man said in the state­ment.

He said he has been con­sult­ing with Gov. Asa Hutchin­son and get­ting “im­por­tant feed­back from Arkansans about how this pro­posal af­fects fam­i­lies in our state.”

Hutchin­son said last week the bill should be re­vised to pre­serve more fed­eral sup­port for Med­i­caid and other sub­si­dies to help low-in­come people buy in­sur­ance cov­er­age.

Creamer said the “plan con­tin­ues to be re­vised” and he didn’t have an up­date on Booz­man’s “po­si­tion on the on­go­ing dis­cus­sions.”

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