WESTFIELD, NJ — More than 100 people from various groups gathered in front of Congressman Leonard Lance’s Westfield office Wednesday evening to ask Lance to vote “no” to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The rally was one of several “vigils to save health care” that evening around the state promoted by New Jersey Citizen Action. More are planned for the coming Wednesday nights, according to India Hayes Larrier of the organization.
Protesters held up signs as cars drove by, shouting, “Congressman Lance, don’t take our health care away.”
“I don’t want to die,” one woman yelled several times.
Lance, who has voted repeatedly in the past to repeal the ACA, said he ran on “repeal and replace.”
Asked, “Why replace? Why not repair?” the congressman answered, “I think ‘repeal and replace’ is ‘repair.’” He invited more than 20 of the protesters to meet with him in his office for about half an hour.
“We are here, congressman, to urge you to vote no on repeal,” Hayes Larrier of New Jersey Citizen Action said inside Lance’s office. “We believe that a repeal, without an immediate replacement — which doesn’t exist right now, hasn’t been agreed upon right now — so to go hurling headlong into repeal as is happening right now, without that is reckless and pulls the rug from hundreds of thousands of people in New Jersey, millions and millions across the country.”
Lance said he wanted a replacement in-hand before the ACA was repealed.
But when asked if he would commit to not voting for repeal until he had a replacement in-hand to vote on, Lance answered “no.”
“I will not vote for any repeal bill that doesn’t say there is a significant phasing period—I’m not going to throw people off what currently exists,” Lance said.
Lance said he favored parts of the ACA, including allowing young people to stay on their policies and no denial of coverage based upon pre-existing conditions.
“I think those are improvements from the prior system,” Lance said. “And I have stated publicly and repeatedly that I do not want to go back to what existed before passage of the ACA.”
He said his goal is to make it more affordable for Americans, including those who had coverage before the ACA.
“I do not believe that any repeal will be effective immediately regarding those who have expanded coverage under the ACA. In other words, if we were to repeal, it would not mean a loss of Medicaid expansion or of the subsidies immediately,” Lance said.
Lance has voted “about 60 or 70” times to repeal the ACA, he said when asked about his past votes.
“I voted for repeal when Barack Obama was president recognizing that we would have to negotiate with him,” Lance said.
“So it was just a protest vote,” one woman said.
“Of course … In part, it was a protest vote,” he replied. “But the question was asked to me as to how I think it should be changed. I have had a similar number of people in this office who have been tremendously hurt by the ACA, who have had their premiums increased dramatically, who have had their deductible increase dramatically. I have actually have had people on the other end of the table who have been crying.”
A man who said he owned a small business told Lance, to applause, “I know you are a very intelligent man. And I also believe, behind the façade of rhetoric, is someone who actually does care. This is your opportunity to show it. And I suggest strongly, if you want to keep that seat in the United States Congress, you do exactly that.”
“We’re saying to you, this is our campaign,” a woman said to Lance. “We’ll do everything and anything that we have to do because we believe that people’s lives are on the line, and an idea that we are going to say ‘we’ll repeal it but we’re going to phase something in’ is a death sentence for some people. It will terrify them and it will cause mass insecurity in our country. It will also have a very, very bad impact economically, and we think this plan is a bad plan for the country.”
Afterward, speaking outside to the crowd, Lance said, “I hope that all of you will continue to advocate as to what you think will make the system better.”