On Thursday, July 13, over 1,000 pairs of shoes stood empty in Chestertown’s Fountain Park, representing the number of individuals in Kent County who would lose their health insurance under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Kent and Queen Anne’s County Indivisible, a local chapter of the nation-wide Indivisible grassroots movement, organized the event as a local expression of the national concern surrounding changes to health care legislation.
According to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BRCA), 15 million people, or more than 4.5% of the total US population, would lose their healthcare coverage by next year. That translates to 930 people in Kent County losing their healthcare coverage. By 2026, the CBO estimates that 22 million Americans would lose healthcare coverage, which would translate to over 1300 individuals in Kent County. This number is nearly equal to the total enrollment of Chestertown’s Washington College, or over half of all students enrolled in Kent County Public Schools. The group titled the event A Mile In Our Shoes as a nod to the saying, “To really know a man, walk a mile in his shoes”. “We are hoping that when people who attend the event see what 930 people in their community really ‘looks like’ (represented by shoes), they will understand that the decisions made in Washington, DC really have an impact here on a local level,” says Raven Bishop, a local artist and KQA Indivisible member who advised on the artistic aspects of the project.
A Mile In Our Shoes was spearheaded by KQA Indivisible leaders Raven Bishop, Erin Anderson, Kitty Maynard, and Linda Cades. The group began organizing the event in March, just after the American Health Care Act was introduced. The event quickly gained momentum, with several community members contributing to planning and execution. Shoes were collected by the Kent County Democratic Club, other Indivisible groups from around the state, and several local individuals, businesses, and community organizations.
The event kicked off at 7:00 pm with shoes surrounding the fountain in the park, although attendees were relocated to the breezeway on High Street when rain, thunder, and lightning rolled in. Several speakers, including representatives from Senators Cardin and Van Hollen’s offices, Jeananne Sciabarra of Consumer Health First, Kathy Appel of the Kuhmerker Consulting Group, and Matt Celentano of the Maryland Citizen’s Health Initiative, provided information on the current and potential future state of healthcare in the U.S. Areas of critical concern emphasized by the speakers were healthcare coverage for children, the elderly, and the disabled, the impacts of pre-existing conditions, lack of insurance coverage for preventative care, and the possible return of lifetime limits on insurance coverage. Mr. Cenlentano shared that one of his children spent more than two weeks in neo-natal intensive care after she was born prematurely. Without the protections of the Affordable Care Act he said, “She would have [reached] her lifetime limit before she left the hospital.”
Ms. Appel, the former director of Medicaid in New York state, drew attention to the necessity of the Medicaid program: 50% of kids in the United States rely on Medicaid during their first year of life and 60% of people in nursing homes require the support of Medicaid coverage. Although both the AHCA and BCRA recommend turning over more responsibility for Medicaid to the states, the audience was reminded that Governor Larry Hogan has not publicly shared a position on the efforts to repeal and replace the ACA despite the fact that it is expected to cost Maryland $2 billion.
Cades shared a personal story about her son, who became disabled when he was 5 months old due to a seizure disorder. Cades’s son is 38 years old and is unable to live on his own, but the waitlist for a group home in the area is 4,000 families long. Group homes get 50% of their funding from Medicaid. She expressed doubt that the state could come in and cover those costs if the AHCA passes and funding to Medicaid is cut.“We don’t dare die,” she said of her and her husband, for fear her son would have nowhere to go without them. The oldest caregiver in Maryland is 101 years old.“That’s my story,” she said in conclusion. “If I walked around this group with this microphone, everyone would have a story, too.”
Allison Glabraith, a Maryland native who is challenging Andy Harris for his congressional seat in 2018, is one of those people with a story. She was unable to afford private insurance after giving birth to her son due to gender rate spikes and her pregnancy-related preexisting conditions. But because of the ACA, she can now afford insurance and is able to run her own small business.
Kimberly Kratovil, the Eastern Shore Field Representative from Sen. Ben Cardin’s office, told the audience “Keep Calling. Keep letting your voice be heard.” Both she and Melissa Kelly, a representative from Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office, passed on their appreciation for KQA Indivisible’s efforts to fight against the inadequate House and Senate versions of an ACA replacement bill.
A Mile in Our Shoes came to a close with a candlelight vigil. Shoulder to shoulder, the crowd stood together in a last demonstration of their commitment to speak out and protect the most vulnerable amongst them. KQA Indivisible hopes to hold additional informative demonstrations, especially on issues of paramount importance in this area: education and environmental policy surrounding the Chesapeake Bay.
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