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Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Doctors protest Trump’s planned ACA repeal in front of Boston State House
John Santiago, a resident physician in emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center, makes the case against congressional Republicans’ plans to convert Medicaid funding to block grants, a move critics say would lead to decreased health care spending.

More than 200 medical professionals pledged to work together to fight against efforts by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and reduce Medicaid funding during a demonstration Saturday in front of the State House.

Demonstrators staged a die-in as Joia Mukherjee, an associate professor with the Division of Global Health Equity at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, speaks on a megaphone.

The spectacle of doctors — many of whom took time off from weekend shifts — nurses and hospital administrators singing civil rights-era songs and pledging support for immigrants and the Black Lives Matter movement underscores the depth and breadth of concerns Massachusetts residents are voicing about a Republican agenda many see as antithetical to the basic functions of government.

“There’s an intersection between what we want for health care, for immigrants, for women, for Muslims, for the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Joia Mukherjee, an associate professor with the Division of Global Health Equity at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “We have to work together.”

The Mass Healthcare Professionals Protest, as the event was billed, comes as House Republicans and Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price are floating draft legislation that would convert Medicaid funding to block grants — a scheme that would turn control over funding to states and cap the total amount each state receives. Because Medicaid currently is administered as an entitlement, anyone who is entitled to receive coverage does, while states and the federal government together cover program costs. Because the ACA extended Medicaid coverage to low-income Americans who otherwise might not have been able to afford health insurance, activists say the Republican plan would effectively put health care out of reach for millions of U.S. residents.

Doctors who spoke at Saturday’s rally said the Republican plans could deprive as many as 480,000 low-income Massachusetts residents their health insurance.

“That has real consequences in terms of people remaining sick without health care and the number of deaths that could occur,” said Swathi Domodaran, a doctor with the Cambridge Health Alliance. “I think health care is a human right”

James McKenzie and Swathi Damodaran, doctors at Cambridge Health Alliance, were among the crowd of approximately 200 who turned out to protest Republican plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and reduce Medicaid spending.

Like Domodaran, many of the doctors present at Saturday’s rally work in hospitals that treat indigent patients, many of whom are able to obtain coverage through the ACA.

“Being on the front line of health care, I’m proud to say I’m saving people’s lives,” said Yuviram Reddy, a doctor at Boston Medical Center who shared the story of a patient who had lost her health insurance and was in danger of dying from high blood pressure.

“She is an example of what would happen if we lose MassHealth,” he said. “She wanted me to speak here on her behalf.”

Other doctors shared similar stories of patients very nearly falling through the cracks in the state’s health care delivery system.

Gary Gottlieb, CEO of Partners in Health, called the Affordable Care Act the “first piece of rational health care policy that has ever existed” in the United States.

“The people in this country who don’t have health care have the same outcomes as people in deeply impoverished nations,” he said. “We must stand strong and insist that the Affordable Care Act not only persists, but is made stronger in the future.”

The rally organizers asked participants to sign petitions, write letters and call members of Congress to voice their opposition to changes that would cut funding for the ACA.

In the last week, polls have shown increased public support for the ACA, with reports indicating that House Republicans lack the votes needed for its repeal, noted Brian Rossman, director of policy and government relations for Health Care for All.

“Here’s what is happening – rallies like ours today, these rallies are working,” he said. “We are scaring the opposition. They are afraid of the town halls. They are afraid of the rallies. They are afraid of the letters and the calls and the petitions and everything that we’re doing.”