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)

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 Trump­cuts 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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