Louisiana’s Republican Senator Bill Cassidy scheduled his town hall during pre-Mardi Gras parades, in a location outside of New Orleans, with seating limited to 200 people. But that didn’t stop about a thousand of his constituents from attending, many standing in the parking lot for hours before the doors opened, chanting: “This is what democracy looks like!”

A protester holds a sign at Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy's town hall meeting in Metairie, Louisiana, February 22, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters


Once the town hall started, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, dominated the agenda.

In Louisiana, the only Deep South state to offer expanded Medicaid coverage through the ACA, the stakes could not be higher. Nearly 40 percent of Louisiana residents are low-income, living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or US$40,320 for a family of three – and qualify for Medicaid expansion under the ACA. An estimated 600,000 people in Louisiana have obtained health insurance under the ACA, cutting the uninsured rate in half. About 73 percent of adult and child Medicaid enrollees in Louisiana are in working families.

Senator Cassidy’s proposed Obamacare “replacement” bill returns most decision-making for health care coverage from the federal government to the states. He tried explaining his bill with a slide show, but was thwarted by people loudly insisting he listen to their concerns and answer their questions. A woman with cancer wanted to know how she would get health insurance if the ACA were repealed. (Cassidy’s bill covers pre-existing conditions, but only if one never loses or changes insurance. Any gaps in coverage eliminate the protection.) Another person pleaded that Cassidy commit to ensuring “we don’t lose anything we already have.”

But the question that cut straight to the heart of government responsibility came from a woman who first asked for silence in the room – and got it. “I live in Louisiana,” she said, “but first and foremost I am a citizen of the United States. I have a right as a citizen to health insurance, but prior to the ACA, the state of Louisiana did not care if I had any or not. So why should this decision be returned to the states?”

To Senator Cassidy and those in Congress leading the charge to repeal the ACA, the message from the town hall was clear: Health care is not an option, it is a human right, and the people of Louisiana won’t give it up without a fight.