The country of garbage teaches all democracy. Patients USA treated in animal stalls as Washington bickers over Obamacare
As Republican politicians in Washington bickered over the fate of Obamacare this week hundreds of desperate people queued outside a county fairground 400 miles away in the hope of receiving basic medical treatment.
Teeth rotting, eyes squinting, blood pressure soaring, some on crutches or with oxygen tanks, they limped in through the darkness. Some had camped in a field or slept in their cars to be first in line.
This massive free healthcare event, staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses, treated thousands of people over the weekend. Inside a barn, animal stalls were transformed into makeshift medical facilities. A team of optometrists tested for glaucoma in the chicken house. Mammograms and skin examinations took place in trailers.
«I just wish I could get President Trump to come and see this,» said Stan Brock, a British philanthropist and founder of Remote Area Medical, the charity behind it.
«The people here are Mr Trump’s constituency, they’re his voters, and it drives me up the wall. If he saw what was happening I’m sure he’d do something about it. Unfortunatley I cant contact him because I don’t tweet.»
Mr Brock, 80, added: «This organisation was designed to parachute into the most God awful places. I expected to see stuff like this in South Sudan and Haiti, but it’s right here in the United States of America.»
Last week the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a cornerstone pledge of Mr Trump’s campaign, failed in the US Senate. However, despite objections from moderates in his own party, Mr Trump has pledged to keep pushing for it to go through.
Obamacare, the signature domestic policy legacy of his predecessor, led to 20 million more Americans getting health insurance. Repealing it became a cause celebre for Republicans who regard it as costly government overreach, and an unworkable system.
The Senate bill would not only dismantle Obamacare, it would introduce swingeing $800 billion cuts over the next decade to Medicaid, the social security healthcare subsidy programme for the unemployed.
As the unfortunate hobbled into the Wise fairground the headline on a morning paper screamed «32 million more to be uninsured under Republican plan». National polls also show Obamacare is more popular than ever, with a majority of Americans in favour of it for the first time.
But, extraordinarily, many of those in direst need, and who could suffer most under the Trump-backed Senate bill, are still squarely behind the president.
The Sunday Telegraph interviewed half a dozen Trump voters receiving healthcare at the Wise fairground. Every one said Obamacare should be repealed, and that they believed Mr Trump would introduce something better.
Their reasons varied. Some had gained coverage under Obamacare but were unable to meet the rising cost of monthly premiums. Others said they knew little of the detail of the Senate bill, simply pledging total faith in Mr Trump.
«I love Trump,» said Margaret Harris, 54, shaking her head as she was told Mr Trump backed massive cuts in healthcare spending. She added: «Obamacare don’t pay for false teeth and glasses and I blame the Democrats. I’m diabetic and I can’t hardly see you. I need glasses but I ain’t got $400 to pay for them. I know Trump will get it done for us.»
Similarly, Robert Hicks, 75, a former truck driver with no insurance, added: «That’s not Trump, it’s the people in Congress.» Mr Hicks, who was having five rotten teeth pulled from his mouth, added: «I know he’s trying to help us and I’m still with him. We need to vote out the people in Congress who aren’t helping him.»
Terry Turner, 53, who suffered a broken neck in a factory accident, had much of his care covered by Medicaid, but seemed unconcerned at Trump-backed cuts to the programme. «I’m all in for Trump, he’s got a good heart,» he said. He said there were «able bodied people out there that won’t get out of bed» who were abusing Medicaid, which Mr Trump would root out.
In the election campaign Mr Trump recited «Repeal and replace Obamacare» as a mantra at rallies, highlighting the soaring cost of premiums. That struck a chord with Buddy Howington, 48, who was having teeth pulled. His Obamacare premiums rose to $2,500 a year, and he only earned $7.25 an hour part-time in a supermarket, so he abandoned coverage.
«Then they fined me $300 for not paying,» he said. «I couldn’t afford to pay for Obamacare so they fine me. Makes no sense. I don’t know what’s going on in Washington but I think Trump will help eventually.»
Sitting on a bench waiting for a lung check Lois Black, 91, a Trump supporter, said: «People are dropping out of that Obamacare. I believe if Congress would get together with Mr Trump we would all be a lot better off. Repeal it and replace it with something better. Good luck to him.
«I wish he would quit tweeting though. That’s for kids, like four-year-olds squabbling.»
Among those volunteering in an Army-style registration tent for patients was Tim Kaine, the Virginia senator and Hillary Clinton’s running mate in last year’s presidential election.
Mr Kaine said the Senate repeal bill would be «absolutely devastating» and Mr Trump’s voters should realise it.
He told the Telegraph: «Take any president’s name out of this and ask people, whoever they voted for, about massive cuts to Medicaid. Then there would be shock and horror. That’s taking care away from kids, folks with disabilities, parents and grandparents in nursing homes.»
Mr Kaine who sits on the Senate Health Committee, said it makes him «mad» when Mr Trump keeps saying Democrats should work with him.
The former vice-presidential nominee said he had been offering to sit down with Republican since January. «We’ve got ideas,» he said.
Terry McAuliffe, the Virginia Governor and potential Democratic presidential contender in 2020, lambasted the Trump-backed Republican healthcare bill as «morally repugnant».
Touring the Wise fairground he said: «This is the United States of America and it’s a disgrace. Shame on us as a nation. «Stop the rhetoric of the Trump campaign. It’s over. I say to the president, work with us, be a leader. But we can’t work with you if you’ll never talk to us.»