Liberal groups launched a two-month bus tour this week, an effort to muster public support for the Affordable Care Act even as Republicans begin to undo it.
The "Save My Care" tour began on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., and plans to travel to as many as 20 states, from Maine and New York to Arizona and Nevada.
Stops are scheduled around Pennsylvania on Monday and Tuesday, and Philadelphia on Wednesday, Jan. 25. None are currently planned in New Jersey, although the schedule is in flux.
The tour will be accompanied by a multistate digital and print advertising campaign in "the high six figures," according to one of the organizers. The Alliance for Healthcare Security, a coalition of groups including Doctors for America and the Service Employees International Union, is leading the effort.
"The intent of the tour is to get beyond the talking points and sound bites to put the focus on the reality that millions of people rely on the Affordable Care Act to get health care," Alice Chen, Doctors for America's executive director, said in an email. "Doctors and medical students are joining stops throughout the bus tour to highlight our experiences and our fears for our patients."
The launch was two days after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), headlined a rally called "Our First Stand: Save Health Care" in Warren, Mich., one of several events across the country aimed at fending off attacks on the law — and possibly Medicare and Medicaid. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), headlined a similar rally Sunday at Boston's Faneuil Hall, while Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), led one in Los Angeles.
"This is the wealthiest country in the history of the world," Sanders told thousands of supporters as they stood outside in frigid temperatures. "It is time we got our national priorities right."
President-elect Donald Trump has said he is nearing completion of a plan to replace the ACA with the goal of "insurance for everybody." But as with other recent comments, he gave no specifics.
The bus tour will feature several mayors and will highlight the stories of Americans who have been helped by the ACA.
Along with the rallies, the tour offers a lens on how Democrats hope to counter GOP moves to dismantle the health-care policies they established under President Obama's tenure. Even Democrats acknowledge that many Americans remain skeptical of the ACA, despite embracing some aspects such as prohibiting insurers from denying health-care coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions.
According to SEIU spokeswoman Meghan Finegan, the union had 100 members connected to the health-care industry meet with their congressional representatives shortly after the presidential election. The group included nurses, doctors and home-care workers, who emphasized that many of their patients were not aware of the potential changes to their coverage.
Gabe Montoya, an SEIU member who works as an emergency medical technician at a Kaiser Permanente facility in Downey, California, told several lawmakers that the people he sees for chronic health problems such as diabetes or heart disease are well aware of the law.
"Patients are really, really afraid of what's going to happen," Montoya said in an interview Sunday. Although he knows the GOP will go ahead with the repeal, he said he warned the staff of a Republican House member from central California that such a move could undermine one of the area's biggest employers by putting jobs at risk.
"They are going to have to take ownership of this," he said.
In addition to participating in the bus tour, supporters will communicate directly with Senate offices — as well as some of the donors to lawmakers — through calls, emails and Twitter. They also will seek to galvanize support among the broader public through Snapchat and text messaging. An unrelated poll released Tuesday showed the ACA with the highest level of support since it passed, although the public is still deeply divided.
It remains unclear whether the tour has any chance of affecting Republicans' strategy when it comes to changing the current health-care system.
Speaking to reporters last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), said he would proceed methodically with dismantling the ACA and would not shy away from taking action quickly.
"Our goal, though, is to deliver relief as soon as possible, because this is just not a matter of us keeping our promise to the American people, this is a rescue mission," Ryan said.