Wearing white coats and surgical scrubs, a small group of political activists passed out pink fliers in downtown Oakland Wednesday. They wore toy stethoscopes and shiny, circular mirrors on their heads.
They're not really doctors, but they dressed the part to grab the attention of pedestrians and warn them about the political efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Since 2014, that law has provided five million previously uninsured Californians with coverage. The state's uninsured rate is now at a historical low of 7 percent.
House Representatives, riven by political differences, have delayed a planned vote on the Republican health care bill until Friday. Their bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), has pushed these Bay Area activists to get creative, and this "Pop-Up Emergency Room" on the sidewalk is one way of highlighting the fact that the bill would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 24 million.
Cindy Shamban of Berkeley wore her white coat draped over another, darker-colored coat.
"That’s part of the skit," she said. "Dress up, have a little bit of fun with it, at the same time we know that we’re dealing with, you know, people’s lives."
Nearby, Monique Harris had propped a sign against her wheelchair. It read, “Losing Medi-Cal means being forced into an expensive nursing home. No more living at home.”
Harris has spastic cerebral palsy and is concerned about the bill's proposed funding cuts to Medi-Cal. Medi-Cal is taxpayer-funded insurance that covers low-income adults, people with disabilities, and nursing home residents.
"Both me and my son receive it," she said. "As well as many other people." Harris said Medi-Cal pays for essential equipment and treatments for her and her son. "He has seizures and diabetes," she explained.
A forecast released this week by Sacramento officials estimates the adoption of the GOP-backed AHCA would blow a $6 billion hole in the California budget starting in 2020. As demand on the health system grows, the loss of federal funds to California would eventually reach $24 billion annually in 2027.