Citing dire consequences for Los Angeles County if the latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is signed into law, four of the five members of the Board of Supervisors said this week that the pending U.S. Senate bill would be a damaging step backward for Los Angeles County. The Republican Senate caucus this week decided to delay any vote on its new health care package—the Better Care Reconciliation Act—until after the July 4 recess.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, flanked by fellow Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis, told healthcare providers and community advocates gathered on Tuesday outside the downtown Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, “We mean to stop this bill.”
Michael Katz, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, told the board that more than 1.2 million county residents gained health insurance coverage under the expansion of Medicaid or health care exchanges created by the ACA, more commonly known as Obamacare, which meant “they no longer had to wait days for care in emergency rooms” and could afford the medications they needed to stay healthy.
“All of that’s in jeopardy now,” Katz said.
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are opposed to the Senate proposal and all of their Democratic Party colleagues are also expected to vote against it. The Republican Party needs at least 50 of its 52 members to pass the bill, even if it relies on Vice President Mike Pence for a tie-breaking vote. At press time, nine GOP senators have said they will not vote for the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) had pressed for a vote before the Senate’s scheduled 4th of July recess. However, that vote was postponed after several Republican senators expressed concerns, with some criticizing the bill as doing too little to unwind Obamacare and others worried that it would hit their constituents too hard. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score this week revealed that 22 million Americans will go without healthcare if the GOP plan passes and is signed into law.
Today’s rally was about making sure everyone understands the consequences, said Louise McCarthy, president and CEO of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County.
“The thing that’s most notable about this fight is the fact that it really doesn’t know boundaries because of social media,” McCarthy said. “The more people hear stories, they understand that they’re actually connected to these issues.”
Residents who don’t rely on Medicaid or the ACA for health insurance will also feel the effects if Obamacare is repealed, she said.
“If you think this doesn’t impact you, hop in the line at the emergency room once there are 22 million uninsured people lining up for care,” McCarthy said. “Or when your nanny doesn’t show up. Or when your substitute teacher shows up sick and gets your kids sick ... this is public health.”
The CBO reported that the BCRA would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion over the next 10 years. It would also eliminate taxes on the wealthy that were used to pay for expanding coverage and do away with mandates requiring insurance and associated penalties. In the spring, the CBO said the House version of the bill, the American Health Care Act, would see 23 million Americans lose healthcare coverage.
At a board meeting following the rally, Supervisor Kathryn Barger—the sole Republican on the nonpartisan board—said legislators on both sides of the aisle believe “the ACA as written has flaws,” but praised the work Katz has done to expand coverage.
“We’ve done very well under the ACA,” Barger said.
Both Solis and Hahn called the Senate proposal heartless, while Kuehl proposed a new slogan for the Senate bill.
“The slogan for the proposed plan may as well be `Make America sick again,”’ Kuehl said. “If this terrible plan passes, Medicaid, as we know it, will be virtually gutted and L.A. County will be ground zero for the plan’s deadly consequences.”
Ridley-Thomas said the board was willing to push back.
“We will not retreat. We will not relent. We will fight for the people of this county because healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” Ridley-Thomas said.