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Maria Cantwell’s trio of Seattle town halls begins successfully at UW’s Kane Hall

Activists who have been longing for Washington State’s U.S. Senators to start holding town hall meetings got their wish fulfilled last night when Senator Maria Cantwell hosted the first of three town halls planned for the Seattle area, focused on healthcare (and perhaps more specifically, threats to healthcare).

If the event had to be summarized in one word, it might be informative; many people in attendance remarked that they had added to their knowledge by coming. The standing ovation at the end signified participants’ appreciation for the smoothly run and thoughtfully executed event. Questions asked by constituents ranged from mothers wondering about the extension of Medicaid to their sons to physical therapists wondering if ER coverage would be brought to rural areas.

Throughout the night, it was clear that Cantwell and other Senate Democrats would be committed to stopping Trumpcare by any means necessary. Cantwell frequently challenged  Republicans to debate her on the Senate floor, stating that their refusal to engage so far was evidence that they didn’t have a winning argument.

Saving the Patient Protection Act from obliteration or sabotage is extremely important, because as Cantwell noted, lives are on the line.

Maria Cantwell hosting a healthcare town hall

Maria Cantwell smiles as she listens to a constituent question at her healthcare town hall (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

When asked about rising premiums, the Senator reinforced the importance of conserving the “things that are working” like the expansion of Medicaid and new family-friendly insurance plans being offered in states like New York.

Sustained applause and cheers broke out when a constituent pointed out that “single-payer healthcare is favored by most Americans.”

(Last week, half of the respondents to NPI’s latest research poll said they strongly supported expanding Medicare to provide universal coverage to all Americans; another 14% said they somewhat supported the idea, for a total of 64%.)

Perhaps the best moment came at the end, when a young woman asked Cantwell if she would encourage her colleagues to convene some kind of emergency or special meeting to address how we can fight the climate crisis in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords and gut the EPA.

As she listened to constituents’ stories, Cantwell expressed strong sympathy for those stuck in the middle, individuals who are wealthy enough to not qualify for Medicaid, but not rich enough to afford insurance on their own.

So did people in the crowd. Audience members could be seen empathizing, often tearing up, when hearing a story about a family member with a critical health condition who received life-saving care thanks to the Patient Protection Act.

One man, a cancer surgeon, shared that his son, when diagnosed with leukemia, wouldn’t have been able to get health insurance without the PPA.

Another woman, frustrated with the lack of nonprofit opioid rehabilitation centers in Seattle, offered a plea for help and stressed the importance of a grassroots movement to provide care for people struggling with addiction.

Cantwell told participants that she believes in universal health coverage, and said she could support whatever approach gets us there the quickest.

Of course, with Republicans in total control of the federal government, progress is going to have to happen at the state level. Cantwell explained the Patient Protection Act does contain a clause allowing states to pursue setting up a single-payer system, but that would go away if Republicans succeeded in gutting the PPA.

Joined onstage by Dean Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, who read out numbers given to people who had signed up to ask questions, Cantwell repeatedly interspersed her commentary on the Republican plot to do away with the Patient Protection Act with praise of our state for its cutting-edge primary care system.

The rest of the country ought to follow our example, Cantwell said. She lauded Washington as a pioneer for excellent, publicly funded healthcare — once stopping to (as she put it), “geek out” with maps and graphs.

Though many constituents were plainly worried about what might happen in the U.S. Senate in the weeks to comes, a spirit of resistance pervaded the gathering. Cantwell encouraged attendees to continue the fight to save the PPA.

Cantwell will hold two more town halls this week. One will take place tomorrow (Friday July 7th) and the other will be on Saturday (July 8th). The Friday town hall will be focused on net neutrality and the Saturday town hall will be a wide-ranging discussion with no specific focus. Both are open to the public but require tickets.


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