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Bel Air protesters march on Rep. Harris' office to voice concerns about Obamacare repeal

About 30 people marched through downtown Bel Air Monday afternoon to deliver a letter to the office of Rep. Andy Harris seeking his participation in town hall meetings on the future of the Affordable Care Act.

Perryville resident Jane Hautzinger has been unemployed since she was laid off from her job as a software analyst Jan. 19 and has been enrolled in a health insurance program supported by the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

She and about 30 other people brought their concerns about the future of the ACA to the Bel Air office of U.S. Rep. Andy Harris Monday afternoon. The Republican Harris, who represents the northern half of Harford County in Congress, has been a vocal critic of the ACA since it was first proposed and supports its repeal.

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"I want Andy Harris to hear my voice," Hautzinger said.

With the current push to repeal the ACA coming from President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, enrollees such as Hautzinger aren't sure how they will get health insurance in the future.

"I want details, I want to know if Medicaid is going to be cut, am I going to lose my insurance, if so what is his plan for me or people like me?" Hautzinger said.

Led by Together We Will-Harford County/Upper Chesapeake, the protesters gathered at the intersection of Courtland Street and Hickory Avenue in downtown Bel Air, walked along Courtland to Main Street, then down Main to Churchville Road then gathered in front of the East Churchville Road shopping center where Harris' district office is located.

They carried signs and chanted slogans such as "this is what democracy looks like," where is Andy, missing in action," and "ACA, fix it don't nix it!"

The march prompted surprised looks and some rude comments from passersby, but several drivers honked their horns and gave the crowd a thumbs up.

Members of the group, which included people who participated in last month's Women's March on Washington, planned to give Harris a letter outlining their request for him to participate in community town hall meetings about the ACA.

"We have asked, we have called, written and Tweeted [Harris] to request a town hall with no response," Delane Lewis, founded of the Harford County Together We Will group, told the group when it stopped in front of the congressman's office.

The local Together We Will group has already scheduled a town hall for Feb. 21 at Harford Community College, and subsequent meetings are scheduled for Carroll County and the Eastern Shore.

"We welcome his attendance and participation," Lewis said of Harris.

She noted about 500,000 Marylanders receive coverage through the ACA, and more than 50,000 of them live in Harris' district.

"This is an issue that he should care about and be listening to us about," Lewis said. "Where are you Andy, that's what we want to know."

Harris was not in his Bel Air office Monday, but his community liaison, Mary O'Keeffe, met with the handful of marchers who entered the office.

O'Keeffe met with the marchers in pairs behind closed doors.

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Harris later issued a statement via email.

"I support replacing Obamacare," the congressman said. "Despite promises, millions of Americans were kicked off health insurance plans, health care costs have skyrocketed, and choices of plans and doctors have plummeted."

"Unlike what happened in 2010 when the ACA was written behind closed doors, when its replacement is ready to come before Congress this year, I intend to hold town hall meetings to discuss our proposal to improve health care delivery in America," Harris said.

Bob McSherry, of Bel Air, said later that O'Keeffe had been "very friendly, very welcoming."

McSherry said his concerns include the ACA, air pollution and its harmful effects on human health and the House and Senate's recent repeal of an Obama Administration rule prohibiting dumping of coal waste in streams.

McSherry noted that in Maryland counties that Trump won – such as Harford – "a lot of people have signed up for the ACA."

Harris' First Congressional District covers the Eastern Shore, Harford County north of I-95 and parts of northern Baltimore and Carroll counties.

The congressman is popular among the district's Harford County voters, who have given him wide margins in his four successful elections for Congress, as well as in 2008 when he first ran but lost.

At the several town hall meetings Harris has held at least annually in Bel Air since being elected, Obamacare has come up for discussion and criticism among those present.

This updated version of the report contains a statement from Rep. Andy Harris.

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