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When the Rev. Scott Dalgarno looks out at members of his Wasatch Presbyterian Church congregation on Sundays, his mind goes to what will happen to them if the Senate Republican health care bill passes.
Some are insured through the Affordable Care Act. Others are on Medicaid. Losing access to those services would wreak havoc on their lives.
These people "are worried about bankruptcy," the Salt Lake City faith leader said Wednesday as he joined a group of about 30 Utahns who met with Sen. Mike Lee's staffers at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in Salt Lake City to voice concerns about the measure.
Dalgarno said later he was not sure the conversation, lasting more than two hours, made much of a difference.
"People were telling their stories and why this was important to them, but I have no idea if it did anything," Dalgarno said. "But I have to speak up."
The bill, which Republicans hope to push through the Senate, is estimated to leave 22 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA). The proposal also would roll back Medicaid expansion and make cuts to the existing program, while reducing taxes for the wealthy.
Senate Republicans asked the Congressional Budget Office late last week to analyze the bill in light of several amendments, including one proposed by Lee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would allow health insurers to sell plans that do not meet standards mandated by the ACA.
That provision would allow insurers the added flexibility, so long as they sold at least one plan that complies with ACA rules.
Many of the Utahns who met Wednesday with members of Lee's staff agreed that the ACA needed some sort of overhaul but labeled the Republican Senate plan as counterproductive.
Reporters were not permitted in their meetings with Lee's staffers, and all questions from the media were later directed to his Washington communications office.
Conn Carroll, Lee's spokesman, said Wednesday that many people offered personal stories, which will be shared with Lee.
"We try to be as open and transparent as possible and listen to people, especially dissenters, to hear their side of the story," Carroll said.
The meetings came a week after about 150 people protested against the GOP health plan in front of the federal building in downtown Salt Lake City, blocking traffic on State Street for nearly 30 minutes. About 24 hours after the protest, patient advocacy groups hand delivered thousands of signatures and personal testimonials urging Utah's senators to vote against the measure.
Lee is one of at least five GOP senators to oppose the Senate's rewrite of the House health care legislation passed in early May. He is working with Cruz to redraft the legislation in an effort to reduce regulations.
If that redraft is successful, many at the federal building Wednesday believed Lee would support the bill. And that, they said, would be a mistake.
"I didn't hear a change in position" from the staffers, said Ellie Brownstein, a Salt Lake City pediatrician. "Lee is opposed to the bill because it doesn't repeal enough."
But Medicaid recipients, many of whom are children, who could lose coverage because of this measure likely would disagree with that stance, Brownstein said.
"Medicaid is huge in this," she said. Kids on Medicaid "go to school, graduate and contribute to society. This bill doesn't take care of the children."
For Shauna Livingston, 65, Medicaid is a lifeline for her family. Her 30-year-old daughter, Beth, has Down syndrome and relies on the government assistance for low-income residents and the disabled to stay healthy. If Medicaid is phased out over 10 years, Livingston said, she will be too old to care for her disabled daughter. And Beth has no other options for insurance, even though "she is high-functioning and contributes to society," the mother said.
Livingston could not enter the federal building Wednesday to speak with Lee's staffers because her state-issued ID expired a month ago. But she sat in the summer day's heat for more than an hour in solidarity with those permitted past security at the door.
From outside, she said she hopes Lee and his staff at least realize that the Senate Republican plan "is nuts."