U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s office in Denver is crowded with a dozen people this morning. Last night, they slept in wheelchairs or on the floor. Today, they’re telling stories of why they need Medicaid and urging the Republican to take a stand against his party’s health care bill.
The senator’s office says it staffed the building overnight to accommodate the protesters. Meanwhile, the protest at 1125 17th Street has attracted national attention. Jon Favreau, the former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, described the occupiers as “heroes.”
“We’re here to demand the right to live, again and again — and we’re going to have to keep demanding that because we’ve been told that we aren’t as worthy of life as a lot of other people,” said Kalyn Heffernan, the MC of the rap group Wheelchair Sports Camp.
“For me, personally, if I lose Medicaid — that’s like my wheelchairs. Without my wheelchairs, I don’t get around.”
Gardner so far has said little about the new Senate version of the bill except to ask for more time. (Here’s our review of local lawmakers’ positions.)
The first protesters arrived at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday; nine stayed overnight in Gardner’s waiting area. The office has been closed to the public, and the protesters have only periodically been allowed to use the bathroom, they said. (Update: Bathroom access was allowed after the protesters brought in a make-shift toilet, Westword reported.)
The senator’s staff have allowed supporters to bring food to the fifth-floor office.
“(W)e continue to do everything we can to make sure the individuals in the office are comfortable and have the medical attention necessary,” Gardner press secretary Casey Contres wrote in an email.
The protesters have been deluged with support and even deliveries of food from around the country. They say they’ll stay into July if necessary. Gardner’s staff has become “salty” and “irritated” this morning, according to Heffernan.
The Republican bill proposes to roll back the expansion of Medicaid, which made health insurance available to more low-income adults in states that participated in the expansion, including Colorado. A change in the funding model also could shift more of the program costs to states, potentially resulting in a cut to services.
“We’ll see two really big changes in Medicaid … that would mean a lot less federal money and some very difficult decisions for Colorado,” said Allie Morgan, legislative director for the Colorado Health Institute.
People with disabilities make up a large portion of Medicaid spending, making them a likely target for cuts, along with children and elderly people, she said.
The Colorado Health Institute estimates that 628,000 people in Colorado alone would lose access to health insurance through Medicaid under the Senate version of the bill. Maintaining the expansion would require Colorado to come up with some $15 billion over the next 10 years, money the state doesn’t have.
Gardner’s office has issued a response to the protest:
“We have not asked for anyone to be removed from the office. Senator Gardner’s staff stayed overnight in the office and we continue to do everything we can to make sure the individuals in the office are comfortable and have the medical attention necessary.
“The senator’s state director spoke with them earlier today to ensure he listened to all of their concerns regarding potential healthcare legislation. The organization currently in the office has spoken to Senator Gardner several times and are in constant contact with his healthcare policy staff regarding requested reforms to our healthcare system. Senator Gardner wants the constituents that are in his office to have quality healthcare. He has concerns that our current system is imploding and won’t be able to provide quality care if nothing is done to fix it.”
We’ll keep you updated.
Kevin J. Beaty reported from the scene for this story.