"Medicaid saved my life."
Kelly Cuvar was 19 when she was diagnosed with a rare, persistent cancer. Eighteen years later, she's holding her own in an ongoing battle whose success she credits in large part to Medicaid. On Wednesday, however, it wasn't just cancer that Cuvar found herself defiant against, but the man poised to slash the very program she says let her live.
Cuvar joined about one hundred others outside the Trump International Hotel, after a week of public backlash against a shadowy Republican effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. On the occasion of President Donald Trump's first re-election fundraiser, they gathered to declare that the millions poised to suffer from a 35% cut to Medicaid would not go silently into the night.
The president was criticized for throwing his first campaign fundraiser at his own hotel, which has already gained notoriety as prime real estate for special interests seeking to curry favor with the leader of the free world. "These guys aren't coming here looking for a good dinner, they're coming here because they expect payback, they expect tax cuts," said Robert Weissman, head of Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group and organizer of Wednesday's rally. While protesters fought for access to healthcare, men in tuxedos could be seen sipping wine and snapping photos from inside the Pennsylvania Avenue building. The price tag per plate at Trump's fundraiser: $35,000 - "that's more money than the household income of 30 million Americans," Weissman said.
The protest's biggest aim was to be seen and heard by the man himself - providing indisputable proof of their opposition right to the face of a president with a history of pretending everyone agrees with him. They got their wish when the motorcade drove by.
"Shame," the crowd angrily chanted in unison, over the engines of the president's police escort. As he turned into the hotel's driveway, he was met with signs including "Trump bribes here," and "that boy don't act right." Surely he locked eyes with the giant puppet in his likeness hoisted over the crowd, or one of several men and women holding fluorescent yellow "Healthcare, not tax cuts" placards. A man wearing rubber buttocks and a "dump Trump" hat leaned against the security barricade, loudly proclaiming "impeach." A sign taped onto his back read "with Trump care you won't be covered."
Aside from ensuring a warm reception for the president's de facto campaign kickoff, rally-goers welcomed several who spoke about the essential role of Medicaid in their lives. Among them was Andraea LaVant, 34, who had a physical disability requiring her to use a wheelchair for most of her life.
"Never have I experienced more terror than when talks began of new healthcare reform legislation that would dismantle the healthcare system that allows me to live a healthy, fulfilling life," LaVant said. "Last week, when I heard of the Senate's plan to implement even more devastating cuts, I felt numb. I represent one in five Americans with disabilities - teachers, lawyers, professionals of all kinds - and we don't deserve to die because of what they want."
For many standing to lose from the new proposals, the stress of having to fund their treatment adds another layer of dread to injuries and illnesses which are often difficult enough themselves. Throughout eighteen years fighting cancer, Kelly Cuvar said Medicaid was essential in managing her financial burden, and without it, things would be far more dire.
"I have spent a majority of my energy and time getting and maintaining healthcare," said Cuvar, "that's what I worry about - I don't worry about getting well, I worry about affording the medicine I need ... if the Affordable Health Care Act passes, I will not be able to obtain health insurance."
A forecast by the Congressional Budget Office earlier this week projected that upwards of 22 million Americans would lose their insurance by the end of the next decade under the Senate bill. That future was dark enough that a number of prominent Senate Republicans, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-K.Y.) and Susan Collins (R-M.E.) appeared bent on jumping ship before adjourning for Independence Day. Without their support, the Senate bill's future is uncertain ahead of a vote expected in the next few weeks.
Wednesday's rally is the latest in a wave of demonstrations across the country against the new healthcare plan. Earlier in the day, hundreds joined Planned Parenthood in a march around the Capitol for access to birth control services which also face cuts under the Republican agenda. On Monday, LGBT activists led a dance party to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's residence on Capitol Hill, bringing attention to the proposal's impact on the transgender community.
"We are turning the tide of this healthcare fight in our favor," said Eugene Puryear, field operations director at Justice First, "let's make this healthcare battle the battle that turns the tide for politics overall ... we're going to take this historically popular moment and turn it into a popular resistance against the Trump regime."