At town halls during Congressional recess, Californians urge support for Affordable Care Act

February 24, 2017 12:49 PM CST By Marilyn Bechtel

OAKLAND, Calif. – Amid the nationwide wave of town hall meetings during the Congressional recess, many gatherings and actions have been held across California, with saving and improving the Affordable Care Act high on the agenda.

California has been a leader in implementing all aspects of the health care law.

More than one-third of Californians – and 60 percent of the state’s children – are now covered by Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid), while another 1.4 million are covered through the state’s exchange, Covered California.

Worry about losing their coverage animated many of those participating in a Feb. 21 town hall with U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, one of the few California Republicans hosting town halls. The gathering drew some 900 people, who also expressed their concerns about the environment, education and other issues.

The scarcity of town halls hosted by Republican representatives aroused the ire of many constituents.

In the Central Valley city of Modesto, several hundred gathered at a constituent-organized town hall to demand that U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, oppose ACA repeal unless an even better plan replaces it. Denham was not there, though he sent a representative to  listen to the discussion. So far he has not scheduled a town hall on the topic. Nearly 110,000 people in his district would lose their coverage following repeal, the great majority of them having gained coverage through the Medi-Cal expansion.

In southern California, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, angered many constituents by failing to show up for a Feb. 21 town hall on the repeal of the health care law, despite “missing person”-style posters reading “Last Seen in Washington supporting President Trump,” and a full-page newspaper ad published the previous week, inviting him to the town hall.

Other districts represented by Republicans, especially in the heavily-agricultural Central Valley, also have large numbers of people covered under the ACA. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, the House Majority Leader, represents one of them.

On a more positive note, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, joined Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan in holding a town hall here Feb. 18, which drew an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 people. Health care was a major issue, along with immigration, racial issues and women’s rights.

In an interview, Lee told Oakland North that it is important for people to hear from others who have benefited from the ACA and how they would be impacted by repeal. “Second of all,” she said, “it is important for people to know that we are together in this resistance movement against this anti-American backwards Trump agenda.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, also held a town hall Feb. 18, where she was joined by California Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley and the CEO of S.F. General Hospital, Dr. Susan Ehrlich.

Three members of Congress in nearby Contra Costa County – Reps. Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney and Mark DeSaulnier – joined in hosting a town hall in Martinez on Feb. 18, with saving the ACA at the top of the agenda.

California mayors announced their own Feb. 22 Mayors’ Day of Action in a press release signed by the mayors of San Francisco, Union City, West Sacramento, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Oakland, Davis and San Jose. The actions focused on virtual phone banks to members of Congress. The mayors said “staggering numbers” of Californians have benefited from the ACA, and added, “When we work together, Californians can accomplish great feats. We’re confident that standing together, we can save the ACA.”

The California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) says over two-thirds of Californians covered under MediCal are people of color), with every racial/ethnic group experiencing increased coverage since 2013. Latinos make up half those enrolled in Medi-Cal, while coverage has more than doubled among Asian/Pacific Islanders and risen by one-third among African Americans.

CPEHN warns that “Proposals to drastically change Medi-Cal by eliminating the Medi-Cal expansion for example, would significantly harm low-income communities overall with particularly negative impacts on Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders and African Americans.

An analysis by the University of California/Berkeley’s Labor Center says California also faces major economic consequences under a partial repeal of the ACA. Besides the loss of coverage by millions now covered by Medi-Cal, and the loss of federal subsidies helping those covered through the exchange, the state would lose $20.5 billion in yearly federal funding for the expansion, and more than 200,000 jobs would also be lost, the majority of them in the health care industry.

No wonder that back in December, Health Access’ Tam Ma told a Sacramento symposium on the Affordable Care Act, “It would be hard to imagine going back to a world without the consumer protections and financial support provided through the ACA and our other health care programs.” And Anthony Wright warned participants to prepare not just for a sprint, but also for “the marathon ahead.”

Via People’s World 

Californians act to uphold Obamacare

January 17, 2017 9:21 AM CST By Marilyn Bechtel

OAKLAND, Calif. – While in Washington D.C., Republicans were starting to tear down the Affordable Care Act, here in California the emphasis is on how to keep and improve the program.

California has been a leader in implementing all aspects of the health care law, including the ACA’s provision for expanding Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid program). Over 3.6 million Californians are newly covered under the expansion, bringing the total covered by Medi-Cal to 14.3 million, or more than one-third of Californians. Sixty percent of the state’s children are now covered by Medi-Cal.

An additional 1.4 million people have been able to get coverage through the state’s exchange, Covered California. Most get financial help so they can afford it.

The budget proposals Gov. Jerry Brown delivered to the state legislature Jan. 10 reflected his concerns over the uncertainties ahead, as well as his customary caution. Brown called for “tempering spending growth” and increasing the state’s reserve fund, and urged dropping some spending proposals introduced but not acted on last year.

At the same time, he called for increasing the number of Californians covered “under the optimal expansion provisions of the Affordable Care Act” to 4.1 million, which he said would raise the state General Fund’s share of the cost from the present $888 million to nearly $1.6 billion.

Just days later, Brown warned the new Republican-led Congress that ending the ACA “without passing a suitable alternative” would not only harm millions of Californians, but would also “destabilize the commercial market for small business owners and individuals,” potentially causing many to be priced out of the market.

The governor was responding to a request for comment from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents a California district. Brown said the ACA had helped to cut the ranks of uninsured Californians from 17.2 percent in 2013 to 7.4 percent now, the lowest level ever.

While the state is ready to work with Congress on “decent and real solutions,” Brown warned that shifting billions in costs to the states would be “a very cynical way to prop up the federal budget.”

Anthony Wright, executive director of the nearly 60-organization Health Access California coalition, noted that Brown’s budget proposals continue support for Medi-Cal, but warned that Californians should be concerned with Congress’ rush to repeal coverage without any replacement in place, not just for those newly covered but “for the health system and the state as a whole.”

On Jan. 5, some 85 health-related, labor, immigrant rights, religious, environmental and other organizations sent a letter initiated by Health Access to members of California’s Congressional delegation. “Our organizations are very concerned about proposals that would throw California’s health system into chaos, removing the guarantees provided to us by Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act,” they said. “We urge you to invest in and improve our health system, and not pursue efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cap the Medicaid program through a block grant or per capita cap, and privatize Medicare.”

The organizations pointed out gains under the ACA, including cutting the uninsured rate, free preventive services, a ban on denying or charging higher premiums to those with preexisting conditions, and elimination of lifetime caps. They also noted that the federal ACA funding flowing to California’s health care providers creates jobs and boosts local economies.

“The health and lives of millions of Californians are at stake,” the letter said. “We ask you to uphold the significant gains that have been made and ensure that any action taken by Congress safeguards the coverage, benefits, consumer and financial protections that the people of California currently enjoy.”

Early in January, state Senate President Kevin de Leόn, D-Los Angeles, and Health Committee chair Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, called on Rep. McCarthy to “contemplate and assess the real impact” repeal of the ACA “would have on the real lives of our most vulnerable constituents … Rather than repeal the ACA, we suggest focusing on measures that increase coverage, while improving affordability and market stability.”

They urged instead that changes focus on cutting what people must pay, making sure benefits are “at least as comprehensive” as now, not shifting or increasing costs to states, and requiring all plans to meet state regulatory requirements.

It is ironic that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, is among those leading the charge to repeal the ACA. McCarthy’s district covers most of Tulare and Kern Counties in the heavily-rural Central Valley. Tulare County has the highest percentage of residents on Medi-Cal – 55 percent – of any California county, with Kern County in the top 10 at 45 percent. In fact, most of the rural counties with the highest rates of Medi-Cal participation are represented in Congress by Republicans.

Pro-ACA demonstrators have repeatedly targeted McCarthy’s Bakersfield office, including a rally Jan. 12, with SEIU participants displaying a giant bill showing the cost if the ACA is repealed and not replaced.

On Jan. 15, thousands rallied across the country to save the ACA, launching a series of actions initiated by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, labor and leading Congressional Democrats. Among California actions were demonstrations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco.

A Los Angeles rally, held at noon in front of the LA County/University of Southern California Medical Center, featured new U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, as well as LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis – a former Labor Secretary under President Obama – and patients and physicians. Solis cited “a remarkable 46 percent reduction” in LA County’s uninsured population. With many people now fearing they will lose their coverage, she said, it’s vital to make sure that doesn’t happen.

In San Francisco, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and folk singer and activist Joan Baez were joined by other area members of Congress and by the city’s mayor, Ed Lee at a rally in Civic Center Plaza. Lee told the crowd, “A repeal vote will start us down the path toward the road to chaos. It means turning our backs on the most vulnerable.”

Via People’s World