ROSWELL, Georgia — If Jon Ossoff wins, he’ll have the Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare with a bill that could strip health insurance from tens of millions of people to thank.
Many of the volunteers here say they’re being motivated by powerful fears of what losing health insurance may unleash. In particular, more than a dozen of Ossoff’s foot-soldiers said that critical questions of reproductive rights and women’s health — fueled both by Republican Karen Handel’s controversial record of cutting off Planned Parenthood funding while running Planned Parenthood and congressional Republicans’ secret health care bill — have played essential roles in motivating them to support Ossoff.
“It’s the number one issue,” said Ossoff supporter Gopi Nath, 48, at a rally on Saturday. “Handel is going to be a rubber stamp for Trump to repeal Obamacare, and Jon Ossoff will not.”
More than 75 percent of district voters oppose the Republican health care bill
Many voters here feel real skepticism toward Donald Trump, who only won Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District by one point. But Trump isn’t everything, and independent of anything he’s done, Republicans have created some serious vulnerabilities for themselves.
“Health care is extremely important to everyone here. Probably the most important issue,” said Arlene Griese, a woman in her 50s who had breast cancer and worries about having to pay for a preexisting condition. She’s voting for Ossoff. “I had some relief when I heard it’d be different in the Senate. But it’s extremely concerning that Congress is moving forward with this.”
About three-fourths of district voters, and one-half of Republicans, said they disapproved of Republicans’ American Health Care Act, according to a poll released by the Atlanta Journal Constitution last month. Only 29 percent of seniors in the Sixth District support the bill.
“The cost of health care was seen a top issue across every political party, race and age group polled: 94 percent of likely voters surveyed said they were ‘extremely concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the issue,” the AJC said.
Voters here say they oppose the GOP health bill for the reasons you’d expect — because of reports that it’d take health insurance from millions of people, because of its rumored impact on those with preexisting conditions, and because it’s being written in secrecy.
“I’m on Medicare — I see what it does for us. My son is self-employed, and he’d have to spend a fortune for health care if he couldn’t get on the exchanges. I see it in my own family, and I’m thinking, ‘What in the hell is going on?’” said Abigail Pilger, 73, a former Republican voter who listed health care as one of the key reasons she’s voting for Ossoff.
Toward the home-stretch of the campaign and in the debates, Ossoff has leaned into this critique of the Senate Republican health care bill. “If the kind of legislation that Congress passed became law, little boys and little girls in this community may be unable to get health insurance. Their communities could be bankrupted by medical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Ossoff says in one of his closing pitches to his volunteers. Though Mother Jones’s Tim Murphy points out AHCA has not been at the center of his campaign ads, Ossoff has criticized the bill and criticized Handel for supporting it in debates.
Even those not actively involved in the campaign have noticed. “It’s really important to me as a medical student that Ossoff supports health care that Republicans in Congress do not,” said Ossoff voter Justin Cornelius, 22, at a Starbucks in suburban Dunwoody, who listed it as the reason he was supporting the Democratic candidate.
Karen Handel’s record on women’s health makes the GOP bill particularly toxic
On its own, Senate Republicans’ health bill may be a political millstone around Handel’s neck, but not necessarily a knock-out blow. After all, Greg Gianforte won Montana’s special election despite ducking questions about the health care bill that was also wildly unpopular in his state. Unlike hundreds of House Republicans up for reelection in 2018, Handel and Gianforte were able to spend their election campaigns effectively dodging questions about whether they supported the Republican health bill.
“What I know is that the Senate will have transparency as they go forward,” Handel told ThinkProgress’s Kira Lerner at a campaign event at the Cherokee Cattle Company in Marietta.
But the political problem for Handel is that the Senate Republican health care bill is compounded by her personal record. Before this election, Handel was best known for setting off a major firestorm while running public policy at Susan G. Komen, a breast cancer charity, by moving to cut off the organization’s funding for breast cancer screenings performed at Planned Parenthood.
In his attacks against her, Ossoff has married Handel’s controversy over Planned Parenthood to a critique of Senate Republicans’ overall health care push. (The House bill defunded the organization for a year; it’s not clear if the Senate bill will follow suit.)
“Folks across the political spectrum and women across the political spectrum are tired of politicians trying to make healthcare choices for them and impose their own views,” Ossoff told BuzzFeed in an interview.
It’s also helped spur Planned Parenthood into sinking massive resources into defeating Handel. Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund has had a team of 40 canvassers go door-knocking every day of the election for Ossoff in the Sixth. (That’s not counting the more than 50 volunteers who have also helped PPAF.) All together, they knocked on 80,000 doors — double the number knocked by any other candidate in the district.
At an Ossoff event, voter after voter linked Handel’s defunding of Planned and the Republican health care bill, which they characterized an attack on women’s reproductive rights.
“So many women are getting involved now because we believed these rights were set and that we wouldn’t have to fight for them,” said Beth Atherton, 39. “You expect reproductive rights in America to be secure and then we turned out to be in for a rude awakening.
Added Rachael Dubinsky, 28, at an Ossoff event: “Reproductive rights have played a huge, huge, huge role in this race. If a woman can’t stand up for other women, then that woman shouldn’t be in office.”
And Maurisa Versel, 43, noted she had four miscarriages and that she could not have afford it without health insurance or help from Planned Parenthood. “Having a woman that doesn’t represented women is disgusting to me,” she said.