published on March 10, 2017 - 9:26 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
A small but vocal group of protestors gathered in front of Adventist Medical Center in Hanford Thursday to demand local Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) vote against a recent bill proposed by House Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare.


The bill, which was made public on Monday, calls to scale back the government’s role in health care. If passed, the plan would repeal the statute’s unpopular fines on people who don’t carry health insurance, replace income-based premium subsidies in the law with tax credits, and, most significantly, overhaul the federal-state Medicaid program, changing its open-ended federal financing to a limit based on enrollment and costs in each state.

According to organizers of Thursday’s demonstration, if the GOP’s new plan goes into effect it would eliminate care for five million Californians covered by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At highest risk, they say, are 14.1 percent of Californians covered by MediCal, over half of whom are children.

More than 99,000 adults in congressman Valadao’s district have received care under the MediCal expansion, and over 110,000 people receive assistance from the ACA — these people would be adversely impacted if the proposed bill is passed, said Dillon Savory, the political director of the Central Labor Council.

“This proposal is going to kick half the people who got insured under ACA off again,” Savory said.  

A handful of Valadao’s constituents shared stories of how the ACA has benefited their families and how these changes could cause them to lose health coverage.

Four years ago, the 8-year-old son of PJ Saenz was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy and had to spend seven weeks at Valley Children’s Hospital. The hospital bill was $492,000, Saenz said, but thanks to a Cadillac plan his small employer funded through the ACA, his family only had to pay $1,500 out of pocket. Now, at age 12, Saenz said his son has to receive methotrexate injections weekly to stay well. Without the good insurance provided by ACA, the cost of this necessary medicine would be devastating to the middle class family.

“This [medication] is something that he will have to depend on over the course of his life,” Saenz said. “This is a lifelong illness and it would be tragic for him to not have the coverage that he currently has under the ACA. He may be covered by my insurance until after age 25, but with [subsidies] not based on his income, but on age, and with the MediCaid expansion gone, what will he do?”

Resident Santos Garcia shared the story of his granddaughter, who was born as a result of the coverage her parents, who had difficulties having a child, received thanks to the ACA. Garcia said congress should find a way for those already on an ACA plan to keep their coverage, and he also stressed the importance of ensuring all have access to affordable health care, especially children.

“We ask congressman Valadao to support medical coverage for the families in his district…We hope that you look at this and put a face on the people who are suffering and struggling to stay in the middle class, and get into the middle class, and get good health care coverage,” Garcia said.

Valadao said he takes the concerns of his constituents to heart and will not rush his vote on the issue, though he does believe changes to Obamacare are necessary.

“Our healthcare system was broken before Obamacare, but Obamacare made it even worse,” Valadao said. “Possession of an insurance card does not necessarily equate to access to quality healthcare, a reality my constituents grapple with every day. That’s why we need to find a better solution.

“Our healthcare system is incredibly complex and any potential reforms must be thoughtfully considered. As I continue to review the recent proposal from House Republicans, ensuring my constituents have access to affordable, quality healthcare will remain my top priority.”

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) expressed his support for the GOP plan.

“Since Obamacare is collapsing and is unsustainable, I strongly support the GOP replacement plan, which is the only feasible existing plan to replace Obamacare with a far better system,” Nunes said. “The plan will allow more competition, cheaper prices, and more locally based care while protecting those with pre-existing conditions and those who want insurance but cannot afford it.”

Though Republicans like Nunes are confident that the proposal is a better alternative to Obamacare, those in the health care field have expressed concerns that mirror those expressed by Hanford residents.

C. Duane Dauner, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, released a statement Tuesday detailing some potential negative impacts the GOP proposal could have on California hospitals.

“The plans’ proposal to restructure MediCaid will likely undo the important gains in coverage that have been made over the past few years,” the statement reads. “California has the highest poverty rate in the nation. An estimated 6.3 million Californians, including 1.9 million children, live in poverty. CHA is disheartened by the failure of this plan to restore funding for the Medicare program. Currently under the ACA, Medicare funding to California hospitals is being cut by more than $26 billion through 2026 in exchange for the promise of expanded coverage. Unless these payments are restored, California hospitals and the patients they serve will likely face a diminution of available health care services.”

Yasmin Peled, the Northern California organizer for Health Access California, said it would take a team effort between Republicans and Democrats to reach a solution that keeps costs down and people covered.

“If there were a true bipartisan working group to try and identify the cost drivers and figure out how do we decrease costs and keep people in coverage, that would be a solution, but right now the Republicans refuse to work with the Democrats on this and there is an ideological difference about whether this coverage is worthwhile,” Peled said. “There are some folks in the GOP that do not believe health care is a right. We will always end up in this conundrum if we cannot agree as a nation that health care is a right and that, regardless of how much money you make, you deserve not to die on the street because you can’t afford health care.”

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