Harrisburg protest urges Toomey to protect ACA

David Weissman, 505-5431/@DispatchDavid
  • Jan. 31 marked final day of open enrollment for the 2017 Affordable Care Act health care plan.
  • Trump and GOP-led Congress have said repealing and replacing ACA is a priority.
  • Rally formed outside Sen. Pat Toomey's Harrisburg office to call on him to repair ACA, not repeal.

Tuesday marked the final day Americans could enroll in 2017 health care plans through the Affordable Care Act, and many gathered in Harrisburg to urge Sen. Pat Toomey to make sure those plans are  available in the future.

Nikki Byer, of Etters, holds her "Repair don't repeal The ACA" sign during a #TuesdaysWithToomey protest Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, outside of the Federal Building in Harrisburg. Amanda J. Cain photo

A group of about 100, mostly women, protested outside Toomey's office in Harrisburg because they are worried he isn't paying attention to the health care needs of his female, transgender and low-income constituents.

Pennsylvania's Republican senator has said in statements that repealing the Affordable Care Act is one of his legislative priorities because "premiums are skyrocketing, and people have lost coverage they were promised they could keep."

The rally, one of six around the state at his various offices, is part of a weekly series that began last week titled Tuesdays with Toomey.

Organizers said their many calls to Toomey's office have gone unanswered, and the voicemail boxes are full, so showing up at his offices was their best shot at being heard. Organizers also gathered letters from attendees to drop off in his office.

ER Anderson, a spokeswoman with Toomey's office, wrote in an email that many Pennsylvanians are calling their offices with myriad concerns.

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"Senator Toomey’s staff in Pennsylvania — 25 people in seven offices across the state — are doing everything they can to answer as many calls as possible ," she wrote, "while also attending to other responsibilities, such as helping veterans and senior citizens get their benefits and representing the senator at many community events."

Terrell Turner, of Stewartstown, was one of numerous attendees to stand up and speak to the crowd through a megaphone about his concerns.

Put People First -PA Representative Terrell Turner, of Stewartstown, speaks at the #TuesdaysWithToomey protest Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, outside of the Federal Building in Harrisburg. Amanda J. Cain photo

Turner, a member of universal health care advocacy group Put People First, said he has written to Toomey and got a "blanket statement" in return, stating that something would replace the Affordable Care Act but not providing any detail about what that might entail.

Ultimately, Turner said he believes the government needs to go further, first providing a public option — allowing insurance companies to compete with government-provided healthcare — before offering universal healthcare.

After the health care concerns were heard, the rally allowed attendees to speak about other issues, which included calling on Toomey to vote against Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos and speaking out against President Donald Trump's executive order that imposes a temporary ban on accepting refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Toomey said in a statement over the weekend that he supports the administration's decision "to increase vetting and temporarily suspend the admission of certain individuals from states that sponsor or provide safe havens to terrorists." However, he said, the initial order was flawed, which "resulted in denied entry into the United States for lawful permanent residents and others who should have been allowed immediate entry."

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.