Healthcare protestors plan to keep vigil outside Sen. Pat Toomey’s Pittsburgh office for 24 hours

The vigil is one of several taking part across the state.

Demonstrators gather outside of Sen. Pat Toomey's office last month in support of keeping the Affordable Care Act.

Demonstrators gather outside of Sen. Pat Toomey's office last month in support of keeping the Affordable Care Act.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

For weeks, Sen. Pat Toomey has been working with 12 of his male colleagues to draft a healthcare bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with legislation that would cap Medicaid.

At least, that’s what people believe it would do. Most senators haven’t seen a copy of bill, which Republican leaders plan to release today and would like to vote on as early as next week.

With Toomey at the center of these negotiations, people across Pennsylvania are planning to hold 24-hour vigils outside the senator’s offices this week. Those who plan to participate say they’re concerned about how repealing the ACA and cutting federal Medicaid spending will affect vulnerable populations like seniors and kids.

The Pittsburgh vigil is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. today with a rally outside Toomey’s Downtown office. Other vigils, supported and coordinated by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, are scheduled to take place in Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre.

Antoinette Kraus, director of the Philly-based healthcare coalition, told The Incline the vigils are an “organic movement” to support people who are worried about losing their coverage. Kraus said her group has been hearing from a lot of those people.

“They said, ‘How do we get our stories told? We feel like it’s getting lost in the noise.'”

Jonathan Mayo plans to participate in the Pittsburgh vigil with the local Bend the Arc chapter, which is part of the Jewish Action network. “For us, it was a no-brainer to participate,” Mayo, a steering committee member, said of the group.

He added that a tenant of Judaism is the idea of “not standing idly by.”

“This is not the time for standing idly by,” he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf is also urging Toomey to consider the impact cutting Medicaid will have on the state’s residents and on the opioid crisis.

“For hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, Medicaid is not a handout – it is a lifeline,” Wolf said in a letter. “It helps families care for an aging parent or a child with a disability. It is helping our state battle the opioid epidemic by diverting people from punitive criminal justice settings and into the treatment they desperately need. It allows kids with intellectual and physical disabilities to go to school and learn.”

Sen. Bob Casey is also opposed to the GOP plan.

In a statement, Toomey’s spokesperson Steve Kelly said the senator “has noted numerous times that any Senate health care bill will ensure no one will lose their federal Medicaid eligibility, and no one currently covered by Obamacare will have the rug pulled out from under them.”

“However, Medicare’s current path is not fiscally sustainable,” Kelly continued. “To ensure the future viability of Medicaid, the funding split for the expansion population (able-bodied, childless, working age adults) between the states and the federal government should mirror the traditional arrangement for all other Medicaid categories (aged, children, disabled) and a modest change to the rate in how much the program grows annually is necessary.”

The Pittsburgh vigil will also feature rallies at 11 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. Friday. Mayo said Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh’s members will participate at various times.

The group is relatively new, he said, but they’ve been seeking ways “to join with other people of Pittsburgh who care about progressive issues.” He hopes the vigil will not only show support for people who could be aversely affected by the GOP bill, but will also get the attention of lawmakers to let them know that closed-door negotiations aren’t acceptable.

Kraus said that’s the idea behind the event: to show lawmakers in Washington that the decisions they make in private have “an impact on the lives of folks in Pennsylvania.”

“Lives are on the line,” she said.