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The day after a traffic-stopping rally protesting the GOP health care bill, patient advocacy groups hand-delivered thousands of signatures and personal testimonials Wednesday urging Utah's senators to vote against the measure.
The Save Medicaid Utah coalition gave its petition with more than 5,000 signatures and 1,000 personal stories to two staffers of Sen. Orrin Hatch at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City.
The document calls on Utah's senior senator and his Utah Republican colleague, Mike Lee, to vote down the GOP legislation that advocates argue will strip away essential health benefits and programs from the most vulnerable Utahns.
The coalition including the Utah Health Policy Project, the Disability Law Center, Voices for Utah Children and the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah started gathering the signatures and stories after a June 10 march on the federal building.
Wednesday's delivery came 24 hours after protesters against the GOP health care plan assembled outside the federal building and blocked traffic on State Street for about a half-hour.
The petition voices concerns about potential cuts and caps to Medicaid, lack of protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the elimination of several essential health services for low-income families. Senate Republican leaders hope to pass the measure, which congressional analysts warn could leave 22 million more Americans without health insurance by 2026, within the coming weeks.
Leigh Fullmer, a Lehi resident with multiple sclerosis, shared her medical story before the petition was delivered. She credited Medicaid with helping to pay for care that slows the advance of her disease and allows her to live her life.
"My niece and I go on walks on the Jordan River Parkway, and I can do that now because of my Medicaid," she said. "I have a part-time job, where I can go to work and be around people and do stuff that is actually important for the company because of my Medicaid."
Coalition advocates and some supporters were invited inside to chat briefly with the Hatch staffers after handing over the petition.
Nate Crippes of the Disability Law Center hopes the testimonials will help the senator understand how Utahns view the GOP plan.
"The important thing we wanted to share with the senator today were the patient stories," he said. "This goes beyond dollars and cents, this goes beyond numbers. This is about people's health, and we wanted to show how this measure could affect their lives."
Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said staffers were pleased to meet with advocates and that the senator is grateful for having received their input the past few months.
"[Hatch] will continue to listen to input from constituents as he works to address the undeniable shortcomings of Obamacare," Whitlock said in a statement, "and bring Utahns and all Americans the patient-centered and affordable care they deserve."