By Maddie Hayes for The Brown and White
Anthony Downing, a working class union staff member, found himself in debt after he needed two invasive surgeries in the past six months for genetic spine issues.
He said he supports Medicare for All, as a Bethlehem community member who has suffered as a result of the healthcare system.
The Medicare for All bill was passed with a unanimous vote at a City Council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 6.
This vote elicited cheers from those who attended to support of the bill.
“I’ve grown up in Bethlehem,” Downing said. “It’s so encouraging…five years ago, it wouldn’t have happened. But we had a unanimous vote, and honestly, some people that I wasn’t even sure was going to vote for it voted for it.”
He is affected personally, but he said he fights for others in similar situations. He acts as the co-chair of the Lehigh Valley Democratic Socialists of America and his group takes this vote as a victory.
Downing said while there will be no immediate impact on the community, Bethlehem will be following the other cities passing pro-Medicare legislation, such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
He said he hopes this snowball effect will continue to put pressure on legislators.
“Even now, at a city level…people are dying, people are not able to pay their medical bills, people are not able to eat…and it’s something that needs to be handled,” Downing said.
His group is putting forth a funded campaign and endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders to push this issue to the forefront of national political conversation.
Noah Levinson, the executive director of Healthcare4AllPA, a Pennsylvania statewide Medicare for All organization, helped organize the City Council meeting with Richard Master, the CEO of MCS Industries. Levinson said he takes this work personally.
“It has everything to do with my personal values,” Levinson said. “It’s important for the next generation to take control. All we’re lacking is the political courage to make it happen.”
City Councilwoman Dr. Paige Van Wirt was a part of the council that passed the bill for Bethlehem. She spoke at the meeting about her reasons for voting in support of the bill.
She said she sees the effects of poor healthcare everyday, and deaths that could have been prevented with better healthcare.
“It certainly isn’t going to be perfect but every single person who seems against this thinks that their taxes are gonna go up, and really, they will go up,” Van Wirt said. “But what will come down is the copays, the out of pocket expenses and the bankruptcies that happen to people that just have bad luck, or bad insurance, or no insurance.”
While Van Wirt said there is a lot people don’t know about healthcare, she said, “We do know how much the current system is costing us and not working.”
The council said in the discussion leading up to the vote on the bill, it was encouraging to see so many people attend a meeting that were pushing for, and not against, the issue at hand.
The members of the council said it is uncommon to see this kind of attendance at these meetings.
“This is a huge moment in our history in America,” Downing said. “This is a huge moment in Bethlehem city’s history, and we’re not gonna stop.”