Several Huntington doctors used an unusual tool this past weekend to abide by their sworn oath to do no harm — their phones — in an effort to deter passage of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the U.S. Senate’s answer to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Physicians working throughout the town gathered to participate in a phone bank, calling residents in other states to try and encourage them to call their senators and protest the bill.
“The most important thing we can do right now is focus on a few key senators who will make or break this bill,” physician Eve Meltzer Krief said in a phone interview. “Senators want to hear from constituents so we’re talking to the constituents themselves. The people we spoke with this past weekend were overwhelmingly against the bill but weren’t calling their senators.”
The doctors called out of a pediatric office in Huntington and focused on West Virginia residents where U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) presides and had not yet declared if she would support the bill.
“When we call as physicians people listen,” Krief said. “We explain that we’re concerned, and we didn’t have one person hang up on us. Everyone listened to what we had to say. Doctors generally don’t get involved politically — I never have in my life — but this [bill] is definitely the wrong direction for American health care.”
For Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), this event hit closer to home, as he was born and raised in West Virginia. His father was a schoolteacher in Welch, West Virginia.
Spencer said for West Virginia citizens, health care coverage is extremely vital, especially for residents who rely on Medicaid. So if the Senate’s bill is passed and Medicaid funding is cut, people there will suffer.
“The life expectancy here in Long Island is 82 years old and in West Virginia it’s 62 years old,” he said in a phone interview. “That’s the life span of a third-world country — for a place about 500 miles away from us.”
Spencer said most people he spoke to said they would call their senator after he spoke with them.
“This was very personal for me,” he said. “Most people there are going about their daily lives trying to make ends meet, and they aren’t thinking about what their officials are voting on.”
The legislator and Huntington-based doctor said he felt inspired after participating in the phone bank.
“I felt that I was making a difference not only for the people in West Virginia but also for my constituents in Suffolk County,” he said.
Although the Senate announced late Monday night they no longer had the votes to bring the health care bill to the floor, as two more Republican senators announced they would not support it, that does not mean the effort to change the current system was defeated.
“I was pleased and relieved to hear that two more senators pulled out of the bill and it was dead,” Dr. Kristin Bruning, a Huntington-based child psychiatrist who also participated in the phone bank said in a phone interview. “But when I woke up the next morning and heard about the repeal … I am very concerned.”
U.S. Sen. and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said he now plans for the Senate to vote for a repeal alone and worry about a replacement later on.
“It feels like it’s just a desperate effort to do anything to annihilate the Affordable Care Act without careful planning,” Bruning said. “I worry that will throw the insurance industry into more disarray.”