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South Floridians Share Concerns about Republican Senate Health Care Bill

People gathered in the South Florida AFL-CIO union hall for the "Empty Chair Town Hall."
Holly Pretsky
People gathered in the South Florida AFL-CIO union hall for the "Empty Chair Town Hall."

As the uncertainty around the U.S. Senate health care bill continues, about 40 people gathered at the South Florida AFL-CIO Union Hall in Miami Springs on Saturday to demand that Senator Marco Rubio vote against it. 

Organizers called the event an "Empty Chair Town Hall" to highlight that Senator Rubio wasn't there to hear from constituents in person. 

According to the organizers, one of the senator's representatives sent an email expressing Rubio's regrets that he couldn't attend due to other engagements. 

Gisela Gomar-Salzverg, one of the participants in the event, suffered a serious concussion last year. She collects disability but hopes to return to work. Her husband is a cancer survivor.

"We are both walking preexisting conditions," she said. "We are hoping that the government will not put us in a position where the cost will be prohibitive and that we can afford it and we can cover ourselves."

Read more: Who Wins, Who Loses With The Senate Health Care Bill Explained In A Chart

Rubio has said he's frustrated with media coverage of the Senate bill. 

"[The law] gives the states the flexibility to design insurance marketplaces that work," he said in a Facebook Live  video broadcasted on June 28. Rubio said the current market isn't attracting enough healthy people.

Read more: Just 17 Percent Of Americans Approve Of Republican Senate Health Care Bill

Three Democratic state lawmakers were at the town hall: Representative Daisy Baez, Representative Robert Asencio, and Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez. 

For almost two hours, attendees passed a microphone around the room, asking questions and offering suggestions, but mostly venting frustrations. Some said they thought a single-payer system is the only viable solution. Others said they were upset the Senate bill was crafted largely behind closed doors. An interpreter translated comments into Spanish.

Senator Rodriguez,  who has announced plans to run for the 27th U.S. Congressional District, acknowledges the ACA isn't perfect. 

"There are fixes that have been talked about, dealing with prescription drug prices and things like that, that the Affordable Care Act leaves undone," he said. "But doing away with the basic protections of the Affordable Care Act makes no sense."

He emphasized ACA requirements protecting women and people with preexisting conditions. Under the Senate bill, people with preexisting conditions can't be refused insurance, but states would be able to allow insurers to decide to reduce coverage of services related to those conditions.

Representative Baez said that Democrats at the state level can't make significant change without more votes, and encouraged activists to channel their energy into getting more Democrats elected in 2018. 

The event was organized by Florida Voices for Health, For Florida's Future, SEIU Florida, Catalyst Miami, and Miami Workers Center.  

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Holly Pretsky is a Colorado native who loves riding her bike around, eating tuna sandwiches, asking questions, and climbing mountains.She discovered radio storytelling when she won second place in an informal audio essay competition her sophomore year of college. The prize: a t-shirt from the local radio station. Since then, she's graduated from Colorado College and continued reporting in Colorado Springs and now Miami. One of her favorite things is learning about people who dedicate themselves to things she didn't know existed, and being reminded how much passion there is in the world.