As Republicans set the wheels in motion to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, local activist are urging Congressman Chris Collins and his peers not to end the health care plan unless they've got a replacement ready to go.
Union representatives, a local pastor, a cancer survivor and a small business owner were among those who gathered outside Collins' district office in Williamsville late Wednesday morning to relay their message.
"By pushing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he is making the rich richer while stripping nearly 30 million Americans of access to the best healthcare system in the world," said the Reverend George Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church. "Children will not get vaccinations and early detections of physical and mental health issues. Women will not get mammograms and other exams that will save their lives. This will not make America great. This will make America sick."
According to figures released by the labor union 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, nearly 218,000 Buffalo-area residents would be at risk of losing healthcare coverage, counties within Collins' district would lose up to $37 million in state funding and seniors will lose $700 in Medicare coverage for prescription drugs.
One of those speaking outside Collins' district office, which was closed Wednesday morning, was a small business owner who says she and her husband finally fulfilled their dream of opening a food truck two years ago, because Obamacare made health care coverage affordable.
Amy Powlenko, who co-owns the Louisiana Cookery, says if no suitable replacement is put into place, she and her husband will need to return to their previous careers. While that would allow them to regain health coverage, it would come at the expense of something they've planned for the past dozen years.
"It would mean losing our investment which we put into our business," Powlenko said. "It would mean closing up the food truck. It would mean taking away something that's become a fun part of being a Western New Yorker, going to some of these food truck rallies and things of that nature."
The Congressional Budget Office reported on Tuesday that up to 18 million Americans could lose their insurance in the first year after a partial repeal of Obamacare.
In an interview with WBFO earlier this week, Collins stated that while the effort to repeal Obamacare is underway, the GOP will not allow a coverage vacuum while they form their own plan.
"One thing we can assure people is for the next two years, no one is going to lose any coverage," Collins said to WBFO on Monday.
The Republican alternative, according to Collins, will be in place in 2019. Among the work ahead, he explained, is figuring out how to provide affordable coverage for low-income people not enrolled in Medicaid.
Collins accused the GOP's critics of using "scare tactics" in their bid to preserve Obamacare.
"We're not going to leave people in the lurch," the congressman said. "Common sense should tell people we wouldn't do something stupid like that."
Vanessa Currie, who has twice overcome cancer, fears many will be left in the lurch if there's any interruption of coverage. She lost her previous healthcare coverage while undergoing treatment.
"If you have a pre-existing condition, like cancer, they can deny you insurance because of your health reasons," she said.