‘I will die’: Moms live-stream visits to lawmaker to protest health care bill
Typically, Jennifer Williams’ outings with her 3-year-old involve playing in the yard or at a friend’s house. On Monday, she instead took her child to see their congressman.
She felt that her life, and her daughter’s life, depended on it.
The Gaston County, North Carolina, woman has called Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry. She’s emailed. She’s sent texts. Nothing has landed her an appointment with the man elected to represent her.
So she took a cue from another Gaston County mom, who she didn’t know personally, but whose visit to the congressman spread across the Internet. Over 4.1 million people have watched Julie Anderson’s Facebook Live video, posted Friday, which starts right after Anderson and her tiny blonde daughter are removed from McHenry’s office.
Anderson’s live video begins as a uniformed officer is mid-sentence: “single parent like you.” As he walks away, she explains that she can’t “apparently be in McHenry’s office and voice my opinions.”
A representative for McHenry told CNN affiliate WCCB that Anderson’s removal “was not requested by the congressional staff” but was initiated by the Gaston County sheriff’s deputy stationed in the building. The sheriff’s office told WCCB that the officer removed Anderson because she was cursing and being disruptive.
McHenry has not held any recent town hall meetings, unlike some Republicans, who have appeared flustered by attendees booing and chanting “do your job.”
At a town hall in Iowa on Tuesday, a crowd got rowdy after the father of a boy with disabilities confronted Republican Rod Blum about his vote for the GOP’s latest health care bill.
Some Republicans have questioned protesters’ authenticity. White House spokesman Sean Spicer called them “a very paid AstroTurf-type movement,” but the women who have gone to McHenry’s office say they are very real, with very real concerns about the latest health care bill.
McHenry, whose office did not respond to calls for comment, has said on his website that he voted for the health care bill to repeal “this broken law,” Obamacare, and to start to replace it “with a healthcare system that actually works.”
McHenry’s website says the new bill protects people with pre-existing conditions, but most experts disagree. If the current bill becomes law, they suggest, it could leave 24 million fewer people with insurance. Under certain circumstances, it would allow insurance companies to charge people with pre-existing conditions more, possibly pricing them out of the market.
In Anderson’s case, it is her daughter, Loretta, who has a pre-existing condition.
As Anderson walks out of the building and buckles her 4-year-old into her car seat, she explains on Facebook Live that before Obamacare, her family had been turned down for insurance. She says through tears that she feels McHenry has made the “child uninsurable for something that’s not her fault.”
Loretta has a liver problem requiring stem cell treatments, according to WCCB, and it requires expensive ongoing treatment. Even with insurance, Anderson spends $12,000 out of pocket each year on her child’s medication, plus co-pays and other treatment costs. If the Republican bill were to become law, the price of her health care could go up dramatically.
“If Loretta doesn’t have her medication, she will die,” Anderson explains on Facebook. The family is already making a large sacrifice to pay the bills: Her husband, who is in the military, volunteered for another deployment “to go to war so our kids could live,” she says. “It’s not how this country should be. That’s not right.”
Since the incident, Anderson has used social media to encourage others to speak with their elected officials. On Monday, Williams answered the call.
Williams had been filming her efforts to get in touch with her elected officials, posting the attempts on YouTube. She said she had never tried Facebook Live but decided it was worth a shot if it meant she could finally get through to McHenry.
As in Anderson’s case, Williams feels that her representative’s support for the Republican health care bill is a real threat to her family. Obamacare “saved her life,” she says.
The 33-year-old sees several specialists for a congenital heart condition. She also has a rare disease, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, that affects her cartilage. Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies refused to cover her, and she maxed out her credit cards to pay for her care. When Obamacare prohibited the companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, she finally got coverage.
“My husband called the help number, and we spent days working with the exchange to find a plan that included my doctors, but they did it,” Williams said. “We were determined to make it work.”
Although Williams’ family now gets coverage through her husband’s IT job, she knows they may have to buy a policy on the market in the future, and she doesn’t like her odds with the Republican bill.
Williams says she has read the bill, all its amendments and subsequent analysis of the legislation, and feels that it doesn’t cover her or her family. Her daughter, Freyja, has juvenile arthritis, and a stepdaughter has ADHD.
And beyond her chronic conditions, Williams is in treatment because she was raped. North Carolina is one of the five states that have not passed a law prohibiting insurance companies from making policy decisions based on rape or domestic violence.
“You can see why I feel very attacked by my representative’s decision here,” she said.
She explained some of her family’s health challenges on her own Facebook Live broadcast. “I will die — this is not hyperbole — if I do not have affordable health insurance,” she tells McHenry’s staffer. Pointing the camera toward her daughter, she says, “She will end up crippled and in a wheelchair, and the reason I am filming this is, I am hoping it will get around to the congressman and he will see there is a human face here.”
The staffer stands listening to Williams, not saying much. She becomes animated when she turns to look at Freyja, who sits fidgeting in a chair, clasping a bright yellow stuffed Pikachu to her chest as she listens to her mom.
When Williams shut the camera off, she said, the staffer offered to take her contact information.
“Now, they have my information at every one of his offices, but still there has been no meeting,” she said. “You can see we were tolerated, and that’s about it.”
Despite the lack of contact, she still feels the effort to talk to McHenry was worth it. “My kids deserve a better world, and even if I don’t get a response, at least I know I tried whatever I could and I fought for them.”
One person she has talked to is Anderson. The women are planning a playdate for their children. Her congressman may never meet with her, Williams said, “but at least maybe something good could come out of this.”