Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont held a town hall meeting in McDowell County, West Virginia, on Sunday to address a variety of issues with residents of the state. Much of the conversation centered around healthcare and, in a particularly poignant moment from Sanders' town hall, a former West Virginian coal miner asserted that he believed healthcare should be a right for all Americans, prompting the crowd to erupt in applause. This moment was particularly striking because around 75 percent of McDowell County voted for Trump in the presidential election, further illustrating the seeming disconnect between what voters likely expected from the Trump administration in regards to healthcare and the policies, like the American Health Care Act (AHCA), that are currently being put forward.
In the clip, Sanders asked a West Virginian coal miner if "[America] should join other countries and guarantee healthcare as a right?" to which he replied, "Yes, I think every American citizen should have healthcare." The miner's response, along with the crowd's thunderous applause, demonstrate the complicated nature of the relationship among GOP voters, Trump and his campaign promises, and healthcare.
According to The Huffington Post, voters in McDowell county were largely prompted to vote for Trump due to his perceived support for the coal mining industry, and Hillary Clinton's perceived lack of support. Coal mining constitutes the primary source of income for many of the county's residents; however, as the mining industry has declined, many of the county residents have lost income or become unemployed. Furthermore, many former coal miners in the county are afflicted with black lung disease, which results from years of inhaling coal, and rely on disability benefits acquired through Obama's Affordable Care Act.
These nuanced factors illustrate some of the many problems of the GOP's recently-released American Health Care Act (AHCA), which seeks to replace Obamacare. Many lower-income Americans who voted for Trump for factors beyond healthcare, like improved access to coal mining jobs, likely never imagined that Trump and his party would propose healthcare legislation that would significantly diminish their healthcare benefits. Indeed, Trump promised voters that he would replace Obamacare with lower-cost, quality healthcare that would allow everyone to acquire insurance. He also stated that he would not cut Medicare or Medicaid benefits.
Unfortunately, the proposed American Health Care Act does just the opposite of what Trump's campaign promised. It significantly raises healthcare premiums, especially for older and lower-income Americans. It proposes massive cuts to Medicaid and will likely cause millions of Americans to lose their insurance. In an unfortunate twist of irony, if implemented, the AHCA will have the most negative ramifications on people who voted for Trump, raising their cost of health insurance by up to $5,000 (or more) per year. Residents of McDowell county are certainly included in the Trump supporters who will be negatively affected by the AHCA; in addition to seeing their healthcare premiums rise, they could also likely lose their black lung disability benefits if Obamacare is repealed.
Last January, Trump promised that his health care plan would provide "insurance for everybody." Now we know that was just another lie. https://t.co/30A7MguAKu— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 13, 2017
Sander's West Virginia town hall crowd's support for the miner's assertion that all Americans should have healthcare illustrates the vast divide between what Trump voters are expecting from a new GOP healthcare law and what they are being offered. It also perhaps demonstrates the dangers of issue-specific voting, as those who voted for Trump because they believed he would bring back coal mining jobs are now facing the prospect of shelling out thousands of more dollars for healthcare, without any notion thus far that Trump will be returning coal mining jobs to their state.
It is clear that having good, affordable health care coverage is (perhaps ironically) very important to many GOP voters. And if the AHCA moves forward, the GOP could lose a great deal of support in the next election due to the detrimental effects the Act will have on its base. The GOP should take this as a cue and strongly consider whether it wishes to continue pursuing passage of the AHCA, both for the sake of its supporters as well as, of course, America as a whole.