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Durham residents protest Obamacare repeal with 'die-in' Friday

<p>The protesters held up signs with sayings&nbsp;like&nbsp;“Don’t kill constituents” and “Trumpcare kills."&nbsp;</p>

The protesters held up signs with sayings like “Don’t kill constituents” and “Trumpcare kills." 

A group of concerned citizens held a "die-in" Friday morning to protest the potential Obamacare repeal while North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr visited the University to discuss health care reform. 

Earlier this month, Republicans released the American Health Care Act designed to repeal Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act. The bill would change the ACA’s tax structure, alter Medicaid provisions and give states more power to allocate health care funding. However, the bill does not have unanimous support even among Republicans, and a vote Thursday was rescheduled for late Friday as a result. 

Burr participated in a closed session Friday morning with the Duke Health Sector Advisory Council. The Chronicle reached out to Council Director David Ridley, who confirmed that the event was closed to the press. 

In response to Burr's visit to campus, the advocacy group Protecting Progress in Durham rallied outside the J.B. Duke Hotel. 

“If it’s not you personally, you definitely know somebody who relies on Medicaid, relies on Medicare, someone that relies on disability. You likely know someone who relied on prenatal care and somebody who struggled with an opioid addiction,” said Kelly Garvy, the founder of Protecting Progress in Durham. “All of these things will probably see huge cuts, if not entirely disappear under Trumpcare or the American Health Care Act. My question is 'where is the compassion in that type of bill?'”

Also present at the protest was Dr. Gary Greenberg, who practices internal medicine for the uninsured and is an assistant clinical professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Duke. Greenberg said he sees patients who have had “years of neglect” because they did not previously have access to health care coverage. Through the proposed bill, 24 million will eventually lose coverage, the Congressional Budget Office reported, including 14 million just next year. 

Another speaker was John Thompson, a Greensboro citizen who claimed he was pro-life, an evangelical Christian and voted Republican for 28 years. After he lost his job in 2013, his employer health care plan cost $2,000 a month, which his family could not afford. He said Obamacare saved his life.

“It took me a year to find another job with health insurance. During the course of that year, the Tea Party nuts over in Raleigh slashed unemployment benefits by 50 percent. Also, during that very same year, I got cancer. But, thank God for Obamacare,” Thompson said. “I signed us up immediately. The subsidy helped us to afford the premium. It was our lifeline during my year out of work."

Thompson also expressed anger toward Republicans, Burr included, for not protecting working Americans and for providing tax cuts to the wealthy in the proposed GOP health care bill.

“I’m not a deadbeat or a freeloader,” he yelled. “For 40 years, I’ve paid my taxes, I’ve worked to support my family, I’ve given to my church, I’ve contributed to my community, but in my hour of need, when my back was against the wall, in the richest country in the history of the universe, Senator Burr, where was your GOP for me?"

About 100 people attended the event, caring signs such as “Don’t kill constituents” and “Trumpcare kills." After listening to the speeches, protesters lay down for the “die-in" and held up tombstones in solidarity with those affected by AHCA.

Ridley said thay he thought it was "unclear" whether Burr supported AHCA based on what he said at the session, adding that Burr frequently referred to a healthcare plan he had released three years ago as being better than the current GOP plan. 

In a statement after the bill was released, Burr took a decidedly different stance on the matter. He noted that repealing Obamacare was essential, and he has in the past said the bill is "imploding."

“The House plan is a good first step toward providing relief from the broken promises, costly mandate, and government bureaucracy created by Obamacare," his statement reads. "I look forward to working with my colleagues to fulfill our promise to the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare with solutions that make health insurance more affordable and that give families more control over their own health care.”