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Warnock frames quest for equal access to health care in gospel call to service
Retorts to Walker’s comments on insulin costs, Medicaid expansion
U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock makes a campaign stop at the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market Event Building behind the Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock makes a campaign stop at the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market Event Building behind the Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, making a re-election campaign stop Wednesday in Statesboro, did not shy away from his other role, as a Christian pastor, linking it especially to his activism for equal and affordable health care that began long before his January 2021 special election runoff victory.

About 150 people, many indicating their support for the incumbent Democrat with shirts, signs or shouts, gathered behind the Statesboro Visitors Center at midday to see and hear Warnock. A few Statesboro political leaders and Democratic candidates spoke briefly in front of the Main Street Farmers Market building before Warnock’s campaign bus rolled in. His Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, whom Warnock referred to as “my opponent” and by reference to his football career but not by name, is scheduled to make a stop Friday morning at Anderson’s General Store.

Since 2005, Warnock, who was born in Savannah, has served as pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, historically the home church of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Warnock told the Statesboro crowd that Georgians who elected him to the U.S. Senate gave him “the high honor of my life.” He called service there “a sacred trust” and “something like being a pastor.” He said he carries the people’s hopes and dreams and the promises everyone makes to their children with him to Washington, D.C., but admitted that this might sound so corny “in this cynical political environment” that some people have trouble believing it.

“But it’s true,” Warnock said, “even with all of the noise and the craziness that goes on in Washington, D.C., even with all of the attacks that they try on me and my church, even as they bear false witness against the spiritual home of Martin Luther King Jr. and try to speak ill of the outreach ministry that we provide for the most marginalized members of the human family every week. …”

“We are Matthew 25 Christians, that’s what we are,” Warnock continued, and then quoted Jesus from that chapter. “He said, ‘I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you gave me some clothes, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was in prison and I was sick, and you came to see about me.’”

Warnock said he lifts this up as a shared value of “all of the great faith traditions,” which have variations of “Love your neighbor as you love yourselves.’”


Healthcare activism

“I’ve been fighting for health care for years because I believe that it is a human right,” Warnock said. “Back a few years ago I got arrested in the governor’s office”

That was actually in 2014, seven years before Warnock was elected to his current, two-year partial term in the Senate. He and other ministers, including the Rev. Francys Johnson of Statesboro, were part of a group that occupied the area outside the office of then-Gov. Nathan Deal at the Capitol in Atlanta while the Legislature was in session, to protest against the refusal of Georgia’s Republican-controlled state government to expand Medicaid.

States had been urged to expand Medicaid, which is partly state-funded but majority federally funded, to fill a gap in coverage between those previously eligible and Affordable Care Act subsidized coverage.

U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock makes a campaign stop at the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market Event Building behind the Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

“They hauled me off to jail that day, but I thought it was a small price to pay when I considered the hundreds of thousands of working Georgians who are in the health care coverage gap who are being used as pawns by craven politicians who refuse to expand Medicaid, even though we’ve already paid for it in our federal taxes,” Warnock said. “It’s not like we get a tax cut in Georgia because we don’t expand Medicaid, we just subsidize health care in other states while our hospitals are closing and people are literally dying.”

In 2017, he was arrested again during a similar protest at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The object of that protest was a Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and passage of a $2 trillion piece of legislation, which Warnock says amounted to “a tax cut mainly for the 1 percent.” Capitol Police told the protestors that if they didn’t move along after being asked three times they would be arrested.

“They were polite, they were professional. I’m not maligning the Capitol Police at all,” he said. “They were first-rate, and we all ought to be grateful to the Capitol Police after January 6th (2021).”

That day in 2017, Warnock sang, he prayed, he gave a little speech on the point that, “A budget is not just a fiscal document, a budget is a moral document,” and then the officers took him to “central booking,” he said.


‘Medicaid saves lives’

“I don’t mind at all, because four years after that, you sent me back to the Capitol,” Warnock said. “Every Monday I pass through that rotunda on my way to my office, where I translated my protest into public policy, my activism and my agitation into legislation. I wrote the Medicaid Saves Lives Bill.”

That legislation, which Warnock introduced last year, would created a “Medicaid fallback coverage program” extending health insurance coverage to citizens in the coverage gap in states that have not expanded Medicaid. At this point, it has not become law.


Insulin cost cap

But legislation Warnock introduced to cap the cost of insulin for some people with diabetes passed with bipartisan support as part of the Inflation Relief Act and is now law, although it does not go as far as Warnock wanted.

“In that office down the hall from where I got arrested protesting for health care I wrote the provision to cap the cost of insulin to no more than $35 in out-of-pocket cost for people who are on Medicare, and I would have gotten it for folk on private insurance as well, but some of my colleagues who work for the pharmaceutical companies blocked it,” Warnock said.


Retorts to Walker

“And when I pointed that out the other night, my opponent said people just need to eat right – and he’s running for Senate,” he added.

Before that, Warnock had had the crowd respond, “And he’s running for Senate” after he related a comment Warnock made about Medicaid expansion.

“He said if you’re able-bodied and you have a job, you have health insurance – and he’s running for the Senate,” Warnock said.

“How is it that he does not know that when you talk about the 600,000 people (in Georgia) in the Medicaid gap, you are largely talking about the working poor?” he said. “The people who are extremely poor have Medicaid. The rest of us have private insurance.”

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