By Mrinal Gokhale
Several police cars surrounded 9th Street where it borders Scott Ave, Mineral Ave, National Ave and Walker Ave on Thursday, March 3. Parking was scarce in and several cars were towed. When arriving into the Bruce Guadalupe Community School, there was airport like security, checking people’s personal items and coat pockets.
This was the much anticipated day President Barack Obama congratulated Milwaukee for winning his Healthy Communities Challenge at the Bruce Guadalupe Community School at 920 S. 9th St.
The White House Healthy Communities Challenge was designed to help communities lacking health insurance sign up for Obamacare. Milwaukee defeated 19 other communities in this challenge, getting 38,000 more people to sign up for health insurance. Some other participating cities were Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta and Detroit.
The United Community Center (UCC), which operates the Bruce Guadalupe Middle School, is one organization that helped people get insured.
Inside the school auditorium were thousands of people both sitting and standing. There was a section towards the back of the room for news media outlets. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who was in charge of the Healthy Communities Challenge in Milwaukee, spoke before Obama arrived.
“The president’s visit is about a serious subject: healthcare,” he said, adding that part-time employees are now able to get insurance due to the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama arrived at the podium to speak at exactly 1:50 p.m. He commended Barret and Abele for helping Milwaukee win the challenge, and also thanked Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who was in the crowd as well.
“You guys tried everything. Mayor Barrett was sticking flyers onto water bills,” he said, as the audience laughed. “You opened libraries for enrollment events, set up an Uber partnership to give folks rides and covered buses in signs encouraging people to sign up.”
He admired Milwaukee’s ability to help minorities to enroll into healthcare.
“The county worked with the Black Health Coalition to encourage African Americans to sign up, ran Spanish radio ads and made sure individuals with disabilities had information they needed.”
President Obama added that other cities, including his hometown of Chicago, tried hard as well.
“Seattle had healthcare happy hours to encourage people to sign up,” he laughed.
When discussing why the Affordable Care Act is important, Obama criticized Republicans for trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than 60 times. “The 20 million people who have insurance today would be uninsured if they had their way.”
He mentioned how Governor Scott Walker refused to accept Medicaid funds in Wisconsin.
“While you have worked your tails off to cover enough people to fit Lambeau Field, your governor hasn’t expanded Medicaid. We could have covered 21,000 more Wisconsinites in the stroke of a pen and saved money,” he stated.
Ironically, before President Obama took center stage, Wisconsin resident Brent Brown gave a speech, introducing himself as a Republican who was against Obama becoming president. However, he said he became diagnosed with an autoimmune disease later on.
“I watched my body tear itself apart but didn’t go to the hospital until I could barely move,” he recalled, adding that he couldn’t get insurance because of his pre-existing condition. His situation changed once the Affordable Care Act was enacted, allowing those with pre-existing conditions to get coverage. Brown later wrote a letter to President Obama, thanking him for “saving his life.”
Obama used Brown’s story as an example on why it’s important to have healthcare coverage, saying the insurance is “not a privilege.”
“At some point, each of us goes through times where things don’t work out, and you got to have a backup plan,” he said.
At the end of his speech, he shook hands with attendees in the front row and then left backstage. Attendees were allowed to exit the school a few minutes later.