Do you remember what our health care system was like before the Affordable Care Act? I do.
I’m a health care provider who saw firsthand how poorly our system treated the underinsured. I had patients who delayed care because they couldn’t afford their co-pays. I had relatives who were denied coverage by insurers because they had diabetes. Far too many in my community lacked access to any care whatsoever.
Later this month, the Republican Congress will vote on a bill taking health coverage away from 20 million Americans without identifying the basic tenets of a replacement plan. How do we know this? They did it last year, with the support of California’s Republican congressional delegation.
They ignore the many successes we’ve achieved since California embraced health reform in 2010. More than 5 million Californians now receive ACA-supported health insurance through Covered California or Medi-Cal. The uninsured rate in California has been cut by more than half, the largest percentage-point decline in the nation, from 17.2 percent in 2013 to 8.6 percent in 2015.
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The Obamacare expansions also led to more jobs. The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that California is responsible for 15 percent of jobs added nationwide over the last few years, above its 12 percent share of the population, with health care among the largest growth sectors. Additionally, a UC study found that repealing the ACA would eliminate 209,000 jobs and $20.3 billion from the state economy. Some California counties, particularly in the Central Valley, which has also been slow to recover from the recession, would be especially hard hit by repeal.
The two main pillars of the ACA, the Medicaid expansion and subsidies for Covered California, are supported by 80 percent of the public. These two provisions added more than $20 billion in federal funds to California’s economy.
There is still vital work that needs to be done. We need to lower health care costs, especially for prescription drugs. Although the ACA is not perfect, we should preserve what works and maintain essential benefits. Any changes should be to increase the number of people covered and reduce the amount people pay in premiums.
Congressional Republicans have had six-plus years since the ACA became law to draft a replacement. We have yet to see a viable alternative put forward. Instead, their preferred approach has been passing a bill that takes the coverage expansions away, knowing they were protected from their irresponsible actions by President Barack Obama’s veto pen.
Now that a vote to repeal can have actual consequences, Californians deserve to know what “replace” means before 5 million lose coverage. A plan to repeal the law and then try to figure out what to replace it with later isn’t a plan. It’s the equivalent of jumping out of an airplane and sewing a parachute on the way down. It’s reckless and shows a callous disregard for the millions of people who rely on the ACA for their health care.
Ed Hernandez, a West Covina Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Health Committee and represents the 22nd state Senate District. He can be contacted at Senator.Hernandez@senate.ca.gov.