OpEd: Repealing ACA would devastate Inland Empire, San Gabriel Valley

By Senator Connie M. Leyva and Senator Ed Hernandez

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Daily Bulletin

Republican lawmakers met at a private retreat in Philadelphia the other day and admitted to themselves what they refuse to tell the American public: They have no replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They have no workable plan. Their promise — to come up with a plan that would cover more people, at cheaper cost, while eliminating the revenue that would pay for such expanded coverage — is impossible to keep.

This confession behind closed doors, caught on a secret recording, reveals that “Repeal and Replace Obamacare” was nothing but an empty political slogan, a way to fire up the conservative base in the November election. While Republicans in Washington are engaging in fantasy games, members of the California Legislature have been working in an open and public process to gather facts about the ACA in California. It is time to share those facts with you.

The ACA is not without flaws. No health care program ever is. But the expansion of affordable and dependable coverage in the Inland Empire, the San Gabriel Valley and across the state is saving lives.

California has experienced dramatic increases in health coverage under the ACA. Indeed, five million more Californians now have coverage under the Medi-Cal expansion or the subsidized insurance available through Covered California. The rate of uninsured residents statewide has fallen from 17.2 percent in 2013 to 8.6 percent in 2015.

It hasn’t only helped people get badly needed insurance; it’s also boosted the economy. Repealing the ACA would eliminate 209,000 health care-related jobs statewide and cost the California economy $20.3 billion in economic activity.

Few regions have benefitted more from the ACA than the communities of the Inland Empire. In San Bernardino County, 211,000 residents have gained coverage since 2013. The rate of uninsured has dropped a full 10 percentage points — from 19 percent uninsured to 8.6 percent uninsured. Repealing the ACA would eliminate 12,000 health care-related jobs in San Bernardino County and cost the local economy $900 million.

In Los Angeles County, 970,000 residents have gained coverage since 2013. The rate of uninsured has dropped from 21 percent to 11 percent. Repealing the ACA would eliminate 63,000 health care-related jobs in Los Angeles County and cost the local economy $5.8 billion.

Last month, our Senate Health Committee held a hearing in the southern San Joaquin Valley and asked residents what was at stake if “repeal and replace” became a reality. 

Julie Otero, 53, who suffers from two lung diseases, sat before us with a breathing tube attached to her nose. “I have never in my life smoked,” she said. She had good reason to suspect that the polluted Kern County air had caused her condition. “There is no cure for what I have.” Otero is a domestic worker who cares for her 85-year-old mother. Inhalers and medication would cost her $4,000 a month if she didn’t have Medi-Cal coverage under the ACA. “I work every day, but I don’t make enough.”

If the ACA is repealed, she fears that she’ll be left out in the cold to fight a disease that will suffocate her without treatment. “We are not asking for much,” she said. “Decent health care. Don’t take it away. Make it better.”

Andrew Miskiwicz, 52, told us he’d been living on and off the streets for 12 years fighting mental illness. Without medical insurance, he had no way to pay for the medication to keep him stable. Under the expanded Medi-Cal coverage provided by the ACA, he’s been holding it together for longer periods. He’s now ready to enroll in a jobs training program. “It’s scary to think the rug might be pulled out from under me,” he said.

A few weeks later, that very image was invoked by Congressman Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., when he met with his colleagues behind closed doors in Philadelphia. “We’re telling those people that we’re not going to pull the rug out from under them, and if we do this too fast, we are in fact going to pull the rug out from under them.”

“We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif. “That’s going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock and barrel, and we’ll be judged in the election less than two years away.”

This is what Republicans confronting the truth inside their private chambers sound like. “Repeal and Replace” may have served as a useful campaign slogan, but this is no longer about feeding rhetorical red meat to your most committed followers in a tweet. This is about people’s lives.

It’s time for congressional Republicans to stop acting recklessly with the lives of their own constituents and start actually governing. Protecting the progress we have made in reducing the numbers of uninsured and then working to improve the ACA would be a good place to start.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, represents the 22nd Senate District. State Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, represents the 20th Senate District.