METAIRIE -- Three local participants in a protest coordinated by liberal groups nationwide were arrested Thursday when they refused to leave a private office building that houses Sen. Bill Cassidy’s Metairie field office.
They were among 20 protesters, led by groups like Our Revolution and Democratic Socialists of America, who came to ask Cassidy to vote against his Republican colleagues’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
Haley Saucier, 26, sat down in the middle of the lobby of the North Causeway Boulevard tower and claimed that she suffers from a rare blood disorder that requires expensive medication she can only afford with the expanded Medicaid coverage offered under Obamacare.
Saucier wore a blue arm-band, which protest organizers said indicated that she was willing to go to jail before the protest began.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Deputies gave her several chances to leave before arresting her and charging her with “remaining after forbidden.” Mark D’Arensbourg, 33, and Laura Welter, 29, were also arrested for sitting in the front doorway of the office tower and refusing to leave.
The other 17 protesters all decided to fall back to the public sidewalk when JPSO gave them a final warning to leave the premises.
Cassidy’s office offered the protesters the chance to enter two-by-two to share their grievances, but the group refused. The senator’s office issued a statement saying they welcome constituents’ concerns individually or in small groups, but cannot accommodate larger groups in a building that also houses doctors’ offices and other private businesses.
Speaking with WWL-TV after the protests, Cassidy said revisions to the GOP health care bill, which failed to get 50 of 52 Republican senators’ support last week, are beginning to resemble his alternative plan, which he calls the Patient Freedom Act.
“In the last couple days I had a conversation with someone who feels like the way we should go is just bundle the money that the federal government has been giving to the states and give it to the states and let them figure it out,” Cassidy said in an interview with WWL-TV on Thursday. “And I said, that’s in essence what the Patient Freedom Act is.”
The Congressional Budget Office determined last week that the main Republican bill would slash Medicaid spending by more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars over 10 years. But Cassidy said the aspects of the bill that reduce increases in Medicaid spending meant to match inflation don’t kick in until 2025, giving states a chance to cut costs in the intervening years and Congress plenty of time to prepare fixes to protect needy families.
Protesters like Alli DeJong, from the New Orleans chapter of the Democratic Socialists, questioned how waivers for disabled Americans will be able to survive such massive spending cuts.
“It guts Medicaid, which insures six out of every 10 children in (New Orleans) and millions and millions of disabled people, offering them the dignity and care of living independently,” DeJong said of the last Republican Senate proposal.
Cassidy said that Senate bill already guarantees full waivers for children who are blind or disabled and would continue to give states the same level of funding for waivers covering disabled adults.
Cassidy’s own plan proposes giving the states more flexibility to keep or get rid of parts of Obamacare. It proposes providing state health departments with 95 percent of their current funding for Medicaid and letting each state decide how to spend it, without the mandates that have been the most controversial parts of Obamacare.
The current law’s penalties for not purchasing individual insurance or not offering it to employees would go away under Cassidy’s plan. But so would Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits, requirements on insurance companies to cover pregnancies, prescription drugs and various preventive care services, leaving it up to the states to make sure those are still covered.
Cassidy said his plan would keep a requirement that mental health services be covered.
“As a doctor that worked in the public hospital system for 25 years, I much prefer the patient control the health care she receives than a politician tell her what she has to have,” he said.
Cassidy’s plan would also provide flexible health savings accounts. DeJong argued that those types of accounts are not practical for low-income families, but Cassidy disagreed. He said that Indiana’s version of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare included health savings accounts for low-income patients, and Cassidy argued “they worked beautifully.”
Cassidy has said that he wants to work with Democrats to devise a nonpartisan bill to replace Obamacare, but was skeptical it could happen when no Democrats stepped forward to endorse his more moderate alternative.
He said different Republican senators are bucking the leadership’s proposal for varying political reasons, so he can’t predict if they will get 50 votes to pass something when they return to Washington next week. But he warned that not doing anything would lead to even more problems.
“If we can’t get to 50, there will be some short-term solutions probably on the individual market,” he said. “On the other hand, premiums will continue to climb. Folks, whether they’re in a red state or a blue state, will not be able to afford their insurance. So, we still need to have a long-term solution, and that’s why I’ll continue to work, either on the Patient Freedom Act or whatever else seems to accomplish the goal.”