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story.lead_photo.caption Protesters gather Thursday in the hallway outside Sen. Tom Cotton’s Little Rock office near the state Capitol for a sit-in urging Cotton to oppose the U.S. Senate’s proposed Republican health care plan. Similar demonstrations were held in Jonesboro and Springdale as part of a nationwide effort among a coalition of activists. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

In demonstrations in Little Rock, Jonesboro and Springdale on Thursday, dozens of people urged U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman to oppose the Senate Republican health care bill.

In Little Rock, about 60 people, including several wheelchair users, took turns holding signs, singing, chanting and telling personal stories in the lobbies of the two senators' offices in the Victory Building, near the state Capitol. More than two dozen others held signs on the sidewalk outside.

"We talk about terrorism -- I feel terrorized now," Lewis Sheppard, 62, of North Little Rock said inside the lobby of Cotton's Little Rock office.

He said he relies on Medicaid to pay for his doctor visits and prescriptions for high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, and worries about the cuts to Medicaid that are in the Senate bill.

[INTERACTIVE: Compare House, Senate bills with Affordable Care Act]

"I'm afraid that I may not live longer if I don't get the proper care and the medicine that I need," said Sheppard, whose legs were amputated during an operation to treat an aneurysm in 2013.

Outside Cotton's office in Springdale, about 20 protesters held signs, including a few who waved American flags from their wheelchairs and others who waved at the occasional honking motorist.

In Jonesboro, about 10 people held signs and waved at motorists outside the Union Street building where Cotton and Boozman lease offices.

"This bill impacts every Arkansan," said Ethan Williams of Corning, who organized the protest. "We can't just sit at home and let it happen."

The group stood under a large ornate clock by the Jonesboro building that chimed loudly every 15 minutes. At noon, the clock bonged 12 times and then played a deafening version of the national anthem.

Motorists drove past the building, stopping at an intersection and reading the various signs. A Jonesboro police officer waved to the crowd.

The demonstrations were among several held in Arkansas and across the country in recent weeks targeting proposals in Congress to overhaul much of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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Our Revolution, a group founded by members of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' failed campaign for the Democratic nomination in last year's presidential election, said in a Facebook post that sit-ins in Arkansas and elsewhere were inspired by a June 22 protest. That demonstration by disabled activists at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in Washington, D.C., resulted in 43 arrests.

Among the groups participating in the Arkansas protests were the disability rights group Arkansas ADAPT, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Arkansas Community Organizations and local chapters of Indivisible, which was formed to oppose President Donald Trump's agenda.

The Senate bill would phase out enhanced funding for states, such as Arkansas, that expanded their Medicaid programs and impose caps on spending for other Medicaid recipients, including children from low-income families and poor people who are elderly and disabled.

It would also scale back tax-credit subsidies that help those who don't qualify for Medicaid buy health insurance, and it would cut taxes -- imposed under the 2010 law to help pay for the benefits -- on insurers, drug companies and high-income households.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Senate bill would increase the number of Americans without health insurance by 22 million people by 2026 while decreasing the number of people covered by Medicaid by 15 million.

At the Little Rock protest, LeDante Walker, 40, who lost the use of his legs and arms when he was injured in a car accident in 1997, said Medicaid pays for an attendant who helps him with tasks such as getting dressed, bathing and preparing meals every day.

Cuts to Medicaid would affect not only him, but other disabled individuals he helps as a part-time staff member with Spa Area Independent Living Services in Hot Springs, Walker said.

"Their biggest fear is losing the services that they have," he said.

Although Cotton was one of 13 senators assigned to write the health care bill, his spokesman has said he merely provided input to McConnell and didn't see the finished bill until the day it was released to the public last month.

On Thursday, Cotton was in Mexico "on business related to his role on the Senate Intelligence Committee," spokesman Dylan Haney said in an email.

According to a report by Fronteras Desk -- which describes itself as a news service supported by public radio stations in the southwest United States -- Cotton, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Wednesday to discuss "organized crime, regional security and economic cooperation."

Haney said Cotton is still reviewing the health care legislation.

Boozman met with "local leaders" in Fordyce on Thursday and visited a service in Arkadelphia that provides free meals to children during the summer, spokesman Patrick Creamer said in an email.

In a statement on his website, Boozman said McConnell's decision to delay a vote on the Senate bill until after Congress' Fourth of July recess "shows that Senate leadership understands there are a number of concerns within the caucus about the original working draft."

"We are discussing possible amendments that will improve the existing framework as we continue to work toward improving healthcare for all Americans," Boozman said in the statement.

He said he has been consulting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and getting "important feedback from Arkansans about how this proposal affects families in our state."

Hutchinson said last week that the bill should be revised to preserve more federal support for Medicaid and other subsidies to help low-income people buy insurance coverage.

Creamer said in the email that the "plan continues to be revised" and that he didn't have an update on Boozman's "position on the ongoing discussions."

Information for this article was contributed by Kenneth Heard of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and by Sierra Murphy of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 07/07/2017

Print Headline: Scores protest health care bill; Crowds at Cotton’s, Boozman’s offices voice opposition

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  • RBear
    July 7, 2017 at 7:40 a.m.

    Our Arkansas senators will most likely be absent from constituent conversations on the proposed legislation even though this affects the constituents more than it will them. This bill was crafted in secret and is being recrafted in secret. What are they not getting about this? This is how you present failed legislation and face mid-term massacres.
    ...
    McConnell doesn't really care since he's pretty safe at the mid-term. Neither does Cotton who's safe until 2020. That could be a challenge for him. Then again, you can probably expect Cotton to flirt with a run for president that year based on the way Trump is fumbling through his first term. Republicans will get sick of him and move for a change, a rarity in a party but not unheard of.

  • arkateacher54
    July 7, 2017 at 7:49 a.m.

    The entitlement crowd speaks. Once you start giving out a new freebie, the recipients are naturally ticked off when someone threatens to shut off the spiggott. Get a job, you bums. Pay for your own insurance.

  • hah406
    July 7, 2017 at 8:10 a.m.

    Teacher, your ignorance of the issue is showing. Over 70% of the families covered by the Medicaid expansion in Arkansas have at least one person in the household employed full time. There are many jobs that either don't provide insurance or that don't pay wages high enough to cover the cost of insurance. Healthcare isn't a "freebie" it is a basic human right. And I love the fact that you want all the infants in the NICU's around the state, where Medicaid pays for 60 - 70% of their care, to get jobs.

  • ARMNAR
    July 7, 2017 at 8:15 a.m.

    "Spiggott?"

    A teacher who can't spell.

    Sad.

  • Ragmop
    July 7, 2017 at 8:19 a.m.

    We seldom see protest when increased benefits are announced. People aren't carrying signs, chanting and demanding that their rights be respected. Could it be that the people paying for these benefits are too busy working?

  • 3WorldState1
    July 7, 2017 at 8:34 a.m.

    Granted, I am a "liberal". But everyone I know that doesnt work is a hard core Republican. But they believe in God and listen to country music. Smoke and drink lots of beer. (They still need HC though) So, good folks I guess.
    All of my liberal friends have professional jobs and earn and pay very high taxes to support teachers54 pension. And we are OK with that. Teachers are important and aren't paid enough. That how big of an A hole Teacher 54 is. Zero self awareness. Just like all (most) republicans.

  • wildblueyonder
    July 7, 2017 at 8:55 a.m.

    I wouldn't call the numbers, "crowds". Kinda' exaggerating, isn't it? Once again, liberals inflating numbers to justify their grievances and selfish interests. How many "died" before Obamacare started? You'd think the numbers would have been in the millions the way these people react. If they needed it, they received treatment for their needs. They could get it now.

  • hah406
    July 7, 2017 at 9:22 a.m.

    gohogs, the CDC and Harvard University estimated that there were between 20,000 and 45,000 deaths annually directly attributed to lack of healthcare in the U.S. prior to the ACA. And contrary to your beliefs, you can't just walk in and get healthcare if you need it. Only the ER and Labor and Delivery are required to provide care. By the time your high blood pressure qualifies as an emergency, you are having a heart attack or stroke and may die.

  • RBear
    July 7, 2017 at 9:27 a.m.

    Ah, the ignorance of gohogs and arkateacher on the issues. The others have done a great job pointing out the lack of true understanding and how those two just parrot the social conservative blog lines.

  • mrcharles
    July 7, 2017 at 9:34 a.m.

    I do agree about indicating there were crowds. Crowds are those that were at the recent inauguration, estimated at somewhere over 2 billion is what I heard. Then there were the real crowds on operation steal the election by the gop goose stepping goons appearing at florida voter offices to use their totalitarian tactics to steal the election with the aid of the partisan supreme court and their relatives in anti-democratic jobs.... Pushing and shoving and intimidation of the election process so we could have that great war of liberation of the radical forces so prevalent now over in the unholy land And most of all I want to point out the absence of white males there, they who made this country grreat by bringing in black slaves and relocating those pesky indians to the worst lands they could find.

    I believe arkteacher is a prime candidate for teaching creationism and alchemy when the legislature requires that in our soon to be public church schools. And if you want to see why our schools are failing, golly gee arkteacher shows clearly what the problem is.

    I do agree that spell check, grammar and such is reserved for term papers, not the wisdom's of the masses stated here. I say give the right free access and see their backward evolution back to the sea as sea slugs.

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