BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Nearly 1,000 people from all over the state of California descended on the Bakersfield office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Friday to demand that he drop plans to privatize Medicare and Medicaid and instead “protect, improve, and expand” these programs that are so vital to people in his district and across the country.
The rally, called and organized by the California Alliance of Retired Americans (CARA), the California Labor Federation, and Campaign for a Healthy California, brought in busloads of a very diverse crowd, including unionists, senior activists, and youth of every race and ethnicity in this state.
Congressman McCarthy’s district, a largely agricultural area toward the south end of California’s Central Valley, has the highest percentage – 51 percent – of constituents who rely on Medicare and Medicaid of any Congressional district in the nation, yet McCarthy has long been a proponent of vouchers and other schemes that would increase costs and restrict coverage for these vital programs.
He has a history of refusing to meet with constituents to discuss this issue. In fact, Rob England, director of the Kern/Inyo/Mono Central Labor Council, who emceed the rally, told of repeatedly finding the district office locked and staff members ducking under their desks when he attempted to arrange meetings; despite repeated attempts to set up a meeting with his staff during this event, staff refused and as usual locked the door.
Speakers at the rally included healthcare workers, patients, teachers, and representatives of several unions, including the California Nurses Association, United Domestic Workers, and United Farm Workers. Latinos were especially well represented, including patients and workers from the Clínica Monseñor Oscar Romero.
Several healthcare workers touched on the devastating consequences of lack of access to healthcare before and even in some cases after the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Oncologist Paul Song of Campaign for a Healthy California recalled how distressing it is to see patients going bankrupt because of the costs of cancer care or coming in with late-stage cancer because they could not access screening or preventative treatments.
Surgical nurse Sandy Reding of the California Nurses Association reported often seeing patients who require surgery because they had to choose between putting food on the table and paying for medications or seeing a doctor. Editha Adams of United Domestic Workers (UDW), a union representing 98,000 home care workers in the state, noted that 61 percent of home care funding for seniors or others needing it comes from Medicare and Medicaid, so that any move that restricts funding or access to these programs directly threatens their clients who cannot manage without the services they provide.
Speakers repeatedly called for expanding Medicare to cover all Americans and pointed out the importance of fighting to vote out Congresspeople like McCarthy who aim to deny Americans access to healthcare.
They also stressed the importance of building unity on this issue; as UDW president Doug Moore declared, referring to the political situation created by the Trump presidency, “This is not a time to be silent; this is a time to stand up, because standing down is not an option” – an affirmation enthusiastically repeated by the crowd.
Bernice Bernillaas, a retired teacher and a CARA activist, gave the participants “homework”: calling their Congressional Representatives and Senators not just once but repeatedly to voice their support for single-payer Medicare for All health care such as exists in every other developed country.
Since the Congressman had locked his doors, people taped signs to McCarthy’s office windows stating why they loved Medicare and Medicaid; McCarthy, or at least his staff, will have to read them when they take them down. And then the crowd marched back to the buses, proclaiming, “We’ll be back.”