Dr. Michael Winkler, a radiologist and associate professor at the University of Kentucky Medical School, took time off Wednesday afternoon from reading patients’ charts to join about 100 people protesting Vice President Mike Pence as he called for a new federal health care law.
The doctor said his work is important but “it’s also important that I’m out here to let people know Obamacare is not the disaster some politicians are claiming it is and what is being offered is horrible.
“This is a matter of life and death for many,” said Winkler, who stressed that he was speaking for himself and not the university.
He cited recent studies that predict the Senate bill would increase Kentucky’s uninsured rate from 6 percent of the population to 21 percent.
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“I’m non-partisan and a lot of my colleagues would be out here, too, today, but they are busy at the hospital,” Winkler said. “I made arrangements to be out here.”
Under a sultry sun in 90-degree temperatures, Winkler, in his white lab coat, chanted “kill the bill” with other protesters as Pence’s lengthy motorcade (20 vehicles, two Lexington fire department vehicles and eight police motorcyclists) flowed into the parking lot of Bryant’s Rent-All.
The protesters, cordoned off in a grassy area about 20 feet away, were referring to a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare offered by Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and backed by President Trump.
The protest was orderly, even as one individual who supported the GOP health bill chanted “get a job” to the protesters.
Bo Ledford, a retired manufacturing manager from Somerset with the liberal activist group Indivisible Bluegrass, said he was protesting because “I know a lot of people on Medicaid and they are going to get hurt with the Republican plan.”
Other groups that helped arrange the protest included the state Democratic Party, Together We Will, Our Revolution, Kentucky NOW and Together Frankfort.
Signs were plentiful at the protest. Some read: “Trump The Voice of Treason,” “Go Home Pence and Leave Our Healthcare Alone,” and “Obamacare Means Obama Cared.”
One was a shot at U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, who is backing the GOP plan. The sign read: “AHCA, Lowering the Barr.”
Another conveyed a Kentucky way of endorsing a plan to provide universal health care coverage for all Americans. “Medicare for Y’All,” it read.
Jane Eller, of Lexington, said she not only is concerned about the GOP plan but was disappointed that Pence only met in Lexington with people who agree with him.
“Many Kentuckians will be hurt if they repeal the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “It’s too bad Republicans in Congress did everything they could to hurt and sabotage the ACA. Fund it properly, tweak it if you must, but it’s better than what is being proposed.”
Brian Cartier, a Lexington software engineer who backs universal health coverage, made a grand entrance to join the protest. He rode a bicycle down Red Mile Road and displayed a sign that said, “Romans 12:13 Share with The Lord’s People Who Are in Need.”
“Our president, vice president and governor like to quote the Bible. I want them to be sure they are familiar with this verse,” he said.
Asked how to pay for universal health care, Cartier responded: “Raise taxes.”
Julie Martinez of Lexington led the protesters in chants with a bullhorn. She said Kentucky is “a battleground for the health care issue,” noting that Pence and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, have visited the state this week to discuss the issue.
Pence’s motorcade left at about 5:25 p.m. through a different drive, avoiding the protesters. They responded by yelling “you can run but you can’t hide.”