Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd at EXPRESS LIVE! Sunday as part of a rally to oppose the Senate health care bill. Credit: Matt Dorsey | Engagement Editor

Ohioan Kate Christman lived her entire adult life — into her 60s — without health insurance, all while suffering from chronic illness related to diabetes through much of that time.

Then came “Obamacare.”

The Affordable Care Act — commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” after former President Barack Obama — was signed into law in 2010, during Obama’s first term as president and allows for citizens to purchase health insurance plans with federal vouchers, a practice that began in early 2014.

Christman — who says she always worked for small businesses who didn’t provide health insurance to employees — signed up for the exchanges as soon as she could.

Obamacare has been wonderful, she said, adding that it was a relief not to worry she wouldn’t be able to afford treatment if one of her illnesses took a turn for the worse.

Kate Christman, who says both she and her husband have benefited from Obamacare, holds a sign outside the Sanders health care rally Sunday. Credit: Matt Dorsey | Engagement Editor

Christman said she drove an hour-and-a-half from Morgan County, where she lives, to voice opposition to proposed legislation which she fears would hurt future people in her shoes by lessening the voucher amounts for insurance policy purchases.

“I hope that our politicians pay attention to all the public support for health care for poor Americans,” she said.

She was among 2,200 people who gathered at the EXPRESS LIVE! concert hall Sunday morning to show that support, as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders led a Columbus rally — part of a three-city bus tour organized by advocacy group — to voice opposition to the recently unveiled Republican-backed Senate healthcare bill which critics say would cut key components of Obamacare.

Sanders — who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 — blasted the Senate bill and said it would leave 23 million more people uninsured than presently are.

The number comes from the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office assessment of the American Health Care Act, similar legislation which passed in the House of Representatives last month.

CBO figures for the Senate bill, unveiled Thursday, are expected early this week.

The so-called health care bill passed in the House last month, strongly supported by President Trump, is the most anti-working class legislation ever passed in the modern history of our country, and the Senate bill, in many respects, is even worse. – Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders portrayed the unenrolling of 23 million people from health insurance as something of a death sentence.

“If you take away health care from 23 million people, many who are dealing with life-threatening diseases, what’s going to happen? People will die by the thousands,” he said.

Christman said that death sentence could hit home for her since her husband — who suffers from congestive heart failure and emphysema — was only able to obtain health care coverage once Medicaid was expanded under Obamacare.

Without Medicaid, “He would probably be dead,” she said.

Sanders also took President Donald Trump to task for supporting a bill he said is cruel to lower-income citizens.

“During his campaign for president, Donald Trump told the people of Ohio, he told the people of Vermont, he told the people of this country that he was going to be the champion of the working class,” he said. “That he, Donald Trump, was going to stand up for those who are in pain, for those who are struggling.”

The president has not kept his word, Sanders said.

“The so-called health care bill passed in the House last month, strongly supported by President Trump, is the most anti-working class legislation ever passed in the modern history of our country, and the Senate bill, in many respects, is even worse,” he said.

Sanders encouraged attendees to reach out to Ohio Sen. Rob Portman to voice their opposition to the bill, adding that a ‘no’ vote from Portman could likely prevent the bill’s passage.

As of Sunday, five Republican senators have voiced opposition to the bill. Portman has said he has concerns about the bill and is awaiting a cost analysis and finalized language before deciding whether or not to vote for it. Assuming all Democratic senators maintain their expressed opposition to it, only two of the 52 Republican senators could vote against the bill and still have it pass.

Sanders encouraged Portman to align with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a fellow Republican, in opposing the bill. Kasich has repeatedly called for bipartisan solutions to the health care debate.

Now they’re pulling the rug out from under people who need (Obamacare) without a viable replacement. – Romy Riebe

Beth Kelley, of Pickerington, said she came to the rally to voice her opposition to the Senate bill because she disapproves of how Republicans are trying to chip away at Obamacare with the ultimate goal of eliminating it.

Beth Kelley (left) with sister Kaitlyn at the Sanders-led health care rally at EXPRESS LIVE! Sunday. Credit: Matt Dorsey | Engagement Editor

“I don’t really understand what the point of just completely wiping it out would be,” she said. “It just seems very cruel to me.”

Romy Riebe, of Powell, attended the rally with her husband, Bruce, which she said was the first time she attended an activist event. The rally Sunday was a good place to start, she said, since she feels ensuring quality health care can begin healing the country’s partisan divide.

Romy Riebe (right) with husband Bruce at the Sanders-led health care rally Sunday morning. Credit: Matt Dorsey | Engagement Editor

Riebe said though she and her husband were not personally impacted by Obamacare, the Republicans had failed to give the legislation a real chance to work.

“Now they’re pulling the rug out from under people who need (Obamacare) without a viable replacement,” she said. “That’s very upsetting to me. I know people who are struggling with health issues, addictions, the elderly. What’s going to happen to them? Who’s going to pick up the slack? Are we going to be stepping over bodies in the streets pretty soon because nobody cares? I just don’t believe that the good people of this country are like that.”

Correction, 6/29: An earlier version of this story misidentified 2010 as being during Pres. Obama’s second term. The story has been corrected to indicate that it was his first term.