Soapbox

As Californians lose their health insurance, Republicans should be held responsible

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, joined 13 other Republicans from California’s congressional delegation in voting for the GOP’s health care bill, which would cause 23 million people to lose coverage over a decade.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, joined 13 other Republicans from California’s congressional delegation in voting for the GOP’s health care bill, which would cause 23 million people to lose coverage over a decade. The Associated Press

Twenty-three million people will lose health insurance coverage.

Isn’t that enough to stop us all in our tracks and ask exactly what are we doing? Are we trying to make this country better? Is it so offensive to strive for all people to have the opportunity to have a healthy life?

As someone who has worked in health care for over 20 years, who has seen the amazing achievements under the Affordable Care Act, and heard the stories directly from the people whose lives are significantly better, I stand aghast at what our country is doing. And worse, what the Republicans in my own state voted for.

Community health centers, born of the civil rights movement from the idea that care should be delivered in the community, by the community, and for the community, have made strides year over year to improve the opportunities and health of our most vulnerable communities.

The model has proven so successful that the health center network has been strengthened by Republican and Democratic administrations alike so that now we are 10,000 sites strong and serving 24 million people in the United States. In California, there are over 1,100 sites serving over 6 million people.

The Affordable Care Act switched the patient base from predominantly uninsured to predominantly insured. We’ve just started to see the tremendous results of what the combination of coverage and access to primary and preventive care can offer an individual.

And yet, somehow, partisan fighting and messaging refuses to believe the facts. This political blindness led 14 Republicans in California to vote against the interests of their own constituents. They voted to make life harder for people and they are telling us it’s a better solution. Plain and simple, the American Health Care Act is a terrible bill. If you are not wealthy, you will be financially harmed and likely lose health care coverage.

Roughly one-third of California’s population is enrolled in Medi-Cal, with the highest number of enrollees living in counties represented by Republicans. In particular, 40 percent of the population in counties represented by Rep. Devin Nunes, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Jeff Denham and Rep. David Valadao – all of whom voted in favor of the AHCA – are Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Changes to the Medicaid funding guarantee – through caps, block granting, reduction in federal share of cost or the elimination of expanded eligibility – will unravel all of the progress we’ve made under the Affordable Care Act. As evidenced by the CBO score – 23 million people will lose coverage over a decade.

Fortunately, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have publicly shared that this bill is not a viable replacement for the ACA. They have vowed to make significant changes to the AHCA. Many have said they are starting over from scratch. Unlike their counterparts in the House, I hope that the Senate will not compromise our patient’s lives to reduce the federal deficit and create more tax breaks for wealthy Americans.

Eventually, the revised bill will make its way back to the House and our Republican Representatives will have a chance to right their wrong and, hopefully, put their constituents first this time, because let’s be honest – there’s too much at stake to put politics before people. The Affordable Care Act is working in California. Plain and simple.

Carmela Castellano-Garcia is president and CEO of CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates, the advocacy affiliate of the California Primary Care Association. She can be contacted at ccastellano@cpca.org.

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