LA Progressive: Op-Ed – How GOP “Healthcare Reform” Will Hurt Vulnerable Californians

June 3, 2017

By California State Senator Dr. Ed Hernandez, OD

Congressional Republicans recently passed their version of health care reform, to the uproar of millions across the country. They passed a shameful bill that could allow individuals with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, obesity, or depression to be charged more for their health care. But there is an even more insidious harm buried within the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that could devastate millions of struggling American families. It’s the transfer of wealth from our nation’s hardest working people to the top 1 percent, made possible by a massive $800 billion cut to the Medicaid program.

This is the whole ball game for Congressional Republicans. They want to cut off some of the most vulnerable people in our communities from Medicaid in order to finance an enormous tax break for the wealthy. All of this to set the stage for so-called “tax reform,” under which the rich get richer.

Let me tell you who this vulnerable population is – it’s our low income seniors, our children and our disabled – people who desperately need health care. Even knowing this, every single one of the 14 Republicans in California’s congressional delegation voted for this bill, including those representing districts in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, regions that saw more people benefit from the Medicaid expansion than anywhere else in the nation.

The intent of the AHCA is not to fix the Affordable Care Act or to make life better for those who need it the most. It’s to help the wealthy friends of GOP politicians. We can’t let it happen.

Nearly half of the people living in some Central Valley counties are insured through Medi-Cal. In fact, the Congressional Districts of Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and his fellow members of Congress Devin Nunes and David Valadao have over a million people combined receiving care through Medi-Cal.

The way this went down was breathtaking in its cruelty and betrayal to the working class. President Trump pledged during the campaign that he wouldn’t cut Medicaid, but after the AHCA vote, he held a press conference with Congressional Republicans, cheering passage of a bill that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says will result in 23 million Americans losing health coverage. California’s Congressional Republicans took selfies in the background.

The AHCA is the biggest threat to the Medicaid program since it was enacted 50 years ago. Not only does the AHCA take away federal funding for the expansion, it attacks the very foundation of Medicaid. Instead of the longstanding guarantee that our federal government will pay its share, the AHCA caps federal funding and shifts the risk of growing medical costs to the states. This will result in cuts to already low provider rates, reductions in health benefits, and millions of people losing their insurance because states won’t be able to finance the billions it will cost to keep people covered. All of this so Republicans can give their billionaire friends a tax cut.

California would be harmed more than any other state. We receive over $19 billion in federal funds for the Medi-Cal coverage expansion. If you believe California could simply backfill that dollar amount, let me put it into context: the $19 billion that we’d lose under this bill is more than California spends on state courts, corrections, and the University of California combined. Our state’s Congressional Republicans should be ashamed of what they’re doing to the people they were elected to protect.

Most galling about this vote is that nearly all of organized medicine, everyone from doctors to nurses to hospitals, joined consumer groups like the AARP and the American Cancer Society, in opposing this bill. Congressional town halls across the nation continue to be filled to capacity with constituents voicing opposition, and nearly every major California newspaper editorialized against the AHCA.

It still needs Senate approval. But before we place our hopes on Senate Republicans to do the right thing, remember that Republicans value tax cuts for the wealthy above everything else. Don’t be surprised if the Senate fixes the threat to pre-existing condition protections to make cutting Medicaid more palatable.

The intent of the AHCA is not to fix the Affordable Care Act or to make life better for those who need it the most. It’s to help the wealthy friends of GOP politicians. We can’t let it happen.

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