Obamacare

Warren: Unless we fight, they won’t believe us

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren rallies the crowd at Salem High School.

By LEAH DEARBORN

SALEM — “I’m going to say something really controversial — I believe in science,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren to a packed auditorium at Salem High School Thursday night.

Warren was answering one of about 80 questions submitted by attendees to a town hall forum. The inquiry was about how Environmental Protection Agency budget cuts will affect the North Shore, an area with a long history of industrial pollution.

“We need to be thinking about how we are going to keep ourselves going in a world that’s changing around us,” said Warren, who advocated for doubling down on science and infrastructure funding.   

Many of the forum attendees were from Salem, Marblehead, and Nahant, but a few came from as far as Lawrence to ask their questions.

Warren gave a particularly passionate response to a question about how the Democratic party can send a unifying message to voters. The answer lies in action as opposed to a change in branding, she said.

“The reality is, unless we’re going to get out there and fight … no one’s going to believe us,” said Warren. “Why should they believe us?”

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The topic of universal health care came up, which Warren called a basic human right. She acknowledged the existence of issues with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, but said the constant initiatives to repeal it have stood in the way of making critical adjustments.  

Marblehead resident Jason Mondale brought up a bill Warren introduced with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to decrease the cost of hearing aids.

Warren described the bipartisan bill as an example of a small crack in the law where legislators were able to work for an effective change.  

National issues such as the recent decision by the Trump administration to attack Syria were addressed by Warren, who assured the crowd that the president cannot take additional military action without the approval of Congress. She said if he wants a shot of getting that approval, he will need to explain his plan of action in detail first.

“We are safer when people in other countries are safer,” said Warren. She said in many instances, building partnerships can be more effective than deploying weapons.  

A vocal critic of the Trump administration, Warren is up for re-election next year.

GOP health care bill collapses day of vote

PHOTO BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Donald Trump is pictured March 24 in the Oval Office.

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan says the collapse of the House Republican health care bill means former President Barack Obama’s health care law will be around for the foreseeable future.

The Wisconsin Republican addressed reporters minutes after GOP leaders abruptly shelved the legislation, averted likely defeat for the bill. But it still dealt a damaging setback to President Donald Trump, Ryan and an entire party that has long said it wants to annul Obama’s statute.

Ryan says pulling the bill was “a setback, no two ways about it.”

The speaker is chiding Republicans who refused to back the legislation for being too inflexible. He says lawmakers must be “willing to give a little to get something done.”

Many conservative and moderate Republicans opposed the legislation.

Repeal of Affordable Care Act lamented in Lynn

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
State Senator Thomas M. McGee attended a meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton at Lynn Community Health Center to hear from constituents who are at risk by President Trump’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

By ADAM SWIFT

LYNNU.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass) has been one of the most vocal national critics of President Trump’s new administration, making appearances on the cable networks and sparking debate across the country.

On Saturday morning, Moulton brought a local focus to a national issue, taking part in a roundtable on the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly referred to as Obamacare, at the Lynn Community Health Center.

“It’s an incredibly important issue in the community and in the country, as the Republicans in Washington intend to repeal the ACA but have nothing to replace it with,” said Moulton.

During the hour-long discussion, Moulton heard from about a dozen community members, Lynn Community Health Center staff, and local businesspeople about how they have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act and their fears if it is repealed.

The Lynn Community Health Center serves 39,000 people annually, according to Lori Abrams Berry, the center’s CEO. Before the ACA passed, 40 percent of those people had no insurance. Today, that number is under 15 percent, Berry said.

That increase in the number of patients who have insurance has a huge impact on the ability to run and fund the health center, Berry said.

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee noted how former Governor Mitt Romney laid the foundation for the ACA in Massachusetts.

“It was embraced by the governor at the time and it was not embraced by the Republicans down in Washington, which was pretty interesting,” said McGee. “They were the ones who came up with the mandate so we were able to pay for it. We were able to insure over 96 percent of the people in the Commonwealth, and our challenge with the ACA under attack is what’s it going to mean for what we’ve been able to do to keep the insurance that we have in Massachusetts.”

With a repeal, McGee said Massachusetts could be in line for losses of billions of dollars in health insurance costs. He said the state could be especially hard hit when it comes to emergency room costs.

“From the legislative perspective, we used to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for the patients who didn’t have insurance who went to the emergency room,” McGee said. “All the hospitals were being inundated and we were really struggling with those costs, we were actually subsidizing those costs as a legislature and a Commonwealth into the hospitals that were giving that care. Obamacare has created a great opportunity to bring those costs down, bring people out of the emergency rooms, and find a better way to care for people.”

While the politics of the ACA was never far from everyone’s mind at the roundtable discussion, it was the personal stories that had the greatest emotional impact of the morning.

Deb Debski has been battling a rare autoimmune disease that was destroying her liver and needed a transplant in order to live. While she said she is doing well now, she was in the hospital earlier this week.

“I told my doctor that I had this discussion coming up and that he had to let me out,” Debski said. “I’m very thankful for the Affordable Care Act. I had $17,000 in medications during the past year, and I paid $75.59. These are medications that I need to take twice a day in order to live.”

Debski said she is extremely upset that the ACA could be repealed with nothing to take its place.

“It would be an incredible hardship to decide whether I can eat or take my medicine,” she said.

Moulton said that Democrats in Congress are open to changes in the ACA, and that he is open to changes in the ACA that could improve it.

“But, we can’t just throw it out and not have a replacement,” Moulton said. “That would be disastrous and you clearly heard that from so many people. We want to hear these stories because we care so much about you, we want to be able to say this to our Republican friends in Washington, but I think it is even more powerful when you convey it directly.”

Roberts to lead North Shore Medical Center

By THOMAS GRILLO

SALEM If Dr. David J. Roberts gets a call from President Donald Trump seeking advice on the future of Obamacare, the next president of North Shore Medical Center (NSMC) will deliver these three words to the White House: leave it alone.

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said. “I would say keep the bones and tweak it. But the president has not called me.”

Roberts, the center’s chief of cardiology, replaces Robert Norton, who retired as NSMC president last month. The first priority for the 63-year-old Danvers resident will be to tackle NSMC’s budget deficit. At the close of fiscal year 2015, the center lost $36 million and last year losses swelled to $48 million.

“Our financial situation is heading in the wrong direction, we have to reverse that trend and get ourselves on a better fiscal footing,” he said. “The amount of money we’ve been losing over the last few years is unsustainable. We’ve got to figure out how to grow the business and decrease our costs so we end up in a better place financially. That’s job one.”

Some of their costs were one-time big ticket charges, such as the move to electronic medical records, Roberts said. The consolidation of the Lynn and Salem campuses will save a significant amount of money, he said.

“When organizations are headed in the wrong direction, they have to make course corrections that can be painful and we’re about to go through that,” he said. “We need to be here 50 years from now providing care. We will have to make the hard choices … it’s going to be rough for a little bit until we can assure our survival, but I am optimistic.”

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NSMC is a member of Partners HealthCare, founded by Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Roberts received his medical degree from the University of Vermont and completed his residency at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in San Francisco, specializing in internal medicine. He completed his research fellowship at NSMC focused on cardiovascular disease. He has been on the NSMC medical staff since 1985 and with Massachusetts General Hospital since 1993.

Roberts said he plans to keep some patients as a way to continue to understand what it’s like to be a care provider.

“I want to stay close enough to the caregiver experience so that I know what’s going on,” he said.

Roberts said he never imagined himself in a managerial role, but tough times called on him to act.

“My whole 32-year career has been in this institution and we are about to go through some hard times,” he said. “I know the place and this is a moment where I must step up. I think I am well-positioned to get this organization to where it needs to go, so I raised my hand.”  

Partners’ board of trustees voted Tuesday to name Roberts as president, effective this spring.

“Dave is uniquely qualified to work with community leaders on the North Shore as well as with clinical leaders throughout the Partners system to ensure that the needs of patients are always being put first, while working to put NSMC on a more sustainable path for the future,” said Dr. David Torchiana, Partners president and CEO, in a statement. 


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Locals set for Grand Old Trump party

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Alexander “Sandy” Tennant and Sara Appiah prepare for Tennant’s trip to Donald Trump’s inauguration.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

Several North Shore residents are eagerly anticipating attending President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration next week, while others will be protesting by participating in the Boston Women’s March.

Trump is scheduled to be sworn in on Friday, Jan. 20 as the 45th president of the United States. The afternoon ceremony will be followed by an inaugural parade and ball. Other inaugural events are scheduled during the week.

Alexander “Sandy” Tennant, a Swampscott resident and former executive director of the MassGOP, said next week will be his fourth or fifth inauguration. He said it’s great to go down, meet different people from around the country and see those new people heading up government.

Tennant said he wasn’t originally a Trump supporter, but as the field of Republican presidential candidates whittled down, he changed his mind. For his first few months in office, Tennant said he wants to see Trump focus on helping out veterans and improving education.

“I feel the way the majority of Americans do,” Tennant said. “We need a change of direction and Washington just hasn’t been working. Donald Trump certainly appears to be the man to go in and shake things up.”

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The Boston Women’s March for America is expected to be an anti-Trump protest, held the day after the new president is sworn in. It’s a sister march for those unable to make the Women’s March on Washington, which is scheduled for the same day. Thousands of people are expected to march in solidarity with communities most affected by the hate, intolerance and acts of violence being perpetuated across the nation, according to a description of the event.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) said she’s planning on joining the march in Boston. She won’t be attending the inauguration, but did say she attended when President Barack Obama was sworn in eight years ago. At the time, she said, her daughters were in their early teens, and over the years, her girls have been able to take many things for granted that Obama promoted, such as women’s equality and fairness.

“We were all able to rest assured that the fate of the nation was in good, capable hands, in spite of all of the divisiveness and racism that he encountered,” Ehrlich said.

But, Ehrlich said the pendulum is about to shift the other way. She said someone’s been elected as the next president who has made fun of a disabled reporter, joked about grabbing a woman’s genitals, and ridiculed people for their sex, race and religion.

“There are really basically two reasons why I’m marching,” Ehrlich said. “First, is to stand united in opposition to the hatred and bigotry which has permeated the political sphere in the run-up to the election. The second reason is to feel the energy from the crowd from those who, like me, have chosen to stand up and object.

“His presidency so far, thankfully hasn’t started yet,” she continued. “Considering that it hasn’t started yet, I would say that our nation is in for a wild ride. He’s taken aim at the nation’s intelligence community and the media, both of which we need for a functioning democracy. I think his appointments, for the most part, they leave much to be desired.”

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Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and her guest will be attending the inauguration thanks to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), who called and asked if the mayor wanted to attend.

“I am absolutely excited,” Kennedy said. “I have never been to a presidential inauguration before. I voted for Trump because the country needed an entirely new direction, that government was getting stale on the national level and somebody had to come in and blow it up.”

Amy Carnevale, a Marblehead resident who serves on the Republican State Committee, is also heading to the inauguration next week. She was a delegate for Trump at the Republican National Convention.

“I’m really excited,” Carnevale said. “I think the inauguration of a new president is a historic moment no matter who the president is. I’m really excited just to be there for it and to play a small part in it that day.”

Carnevale said she’s most excited about seeing the peaceful transfer of power to a new president, which she called a testament to the country’s democracy after a bitterly fought election

For Trump’s first few months, Carnevale said she wants to see Trump focus on how he can improve the economy for all Americans. She said working Americans have too often felt left behind during Obama’s presidency. She also thinks healthcare should be a focus, adding that the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has been anything but affordable for most families.

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass) said he’s chartered a train car, and so far, about 68 people from Massachusetts are joining him for the march in Washington. He said the energy and response to the Trump election from the people in the state has been extraordinary. A recent rally in Peabody, he said, drew more than 500 people, who wanted to do something and stand up for the values that were “under assault” from Trump.

Moulton said Trump is “assaulting” some of the fundamental tenets of the country’s democracy, with his “cronies” threatening a reporter for asking a question at the president-elect’s press conference on Wednesday, undermining the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Moulton said in politics, people are going to disagree with those on the other side. He said he disagreed with former President George W. Bush a lot, including on the Iraq War. But, he said he didn’t see Bush trying to undermine the country’s democracy like he views Trump is.

“That’s why this is so serious,” Moulton said. “We’ll show Trump that Americans are going to stand up for our democracy, for our Constitution, for the rule of law.”

Robert Tucker, a member of the Lynn Democratic City Committee and former president of the Lynn City Council, said he’s attending the march in Boston. He said it’s important for Americans to be heard and to watch the incoming administration closely, as what he’s seen so far with Trump has been troubling.

“I want this march to proclaim the rights of women, LGBTQIA and immigrants,” Tucker said. “We can’t let the positive gains we have achieved be destroyed over the next four years. Our nation is facing the prospect of reversing the rights of women and LGBTQIA that we have worked so hard to achieve.

“I want this march to proudly proclaim that America is a nation of immigrants and support the rights of immigrants to achieve their goal of becoming a citizen no matter where they come from or the color of their skin. We need to start on the local and state level to make sure our voices against discrimination are heard in Washington.”


Thomas Grillo contributed to this report. Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.