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Hundreds rally in Huntington to support Affordable Care Act

Eileen Bruning of Huntington holds up a sign

Eileen Bruning of Huntington holds up a sign opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act at a rally at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Hundreds of people packed a Huntington church Saturday afternoon to oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and push for a state bill that would provide health care coverage for all New Yorkers.

The rally was one of a number scheduled nationwide after Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) issued a call for events defending the ACA, also known as Obamacare. President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal it.

It also was one of many large demonstrations and town hall meetings against the president’s proposals in the five weeks since Trump’s inauguration.

“We want to thank Donald J. Trump for awakening a sleeping giant and filling these auditoriums,” Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) told a crowd that spilled from the large meeting space of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington into hallways and other rooms in the church. Participants booed at the mention of Trump’s name.

For rally attendee Marion Hochberg, 62, of Lynbrook, the ACA is more than the political football it has become. She believes she’d probably either be dead or bankrupt without it.

Hochberg was diagnosed with tongue cancer in November 2013, when she did not have health insurance. Her doctor recommended surgery the next month, but Hochberg had to wait until January 2014, when her ACA coverage began.

She said surgery and related costs would have been $125,000, which the massage therapist would not have been able to pay.

Hochberg said she thinks of others with serious medical issues who have no health insurance and those who could lose their ACA coverage.

“It would be an act of outright cruelty to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act without something to replace it” that provides the same or better coverage at an affordable price, Hochberg said.

Republicans say the ACA has increased premiums for many Americans and that its requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or face a penalty is unfair. Trump has said he favors “insurance for everybody” but has declined to reveal specifics of how he would accomplish that.

Rally participants said that although the ACA has helped millions of Americans, it doesn’t go far enough. What is needed, said Dr. Martha Livingston, a professor of public health at SUNY Old Westbury, is a system that covers all medical problems and everyone.

“We want to build on the wildly successful and inexpensively administered Medicare program,” Livingston, Metro New York vice president of Physicians for a National Health Program, said to cheers.

After the speeches, the crowd broke up into groups by State Senate district.

The goal is to build Senate support for a bill establishing a single-payer, state-run, universal health care system, said Ron Widelec, a member of the steering committee of LI Activists, which hosted Saturday’s event. The group will work to defeat senators who don’t support the bill, he said. The bill twice passed the Democratic Assembly but has been blocked by the GOP-controlled Senate.

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