As House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy leads the charge to gut and replace the Affordable Care Act in Washington, a group of California senators held a hearing in his hometown Thursday to highlight what they said would be the horrible repercussions here.
They did not invite McCarthy or critics of the health care law to speak.
Members of the state Senate Committee on Health, as well as patients and speakers from the health care and nonprofit world, hammered the congressman and other Republicans for, in their words, making “repeal and replace Obamacare” their war cry while offering no specific replacement plan.
Speaking at the Kern County Board of Supervisors chambers in downtown Bakersfield, health care leaders outlined the surges in insurance enrollment they’ve seen since the ACA was implemented. Kern County gained more than 113,000 enrollments, according to Sue Benham, vice president/chief philanthropy officer at Dignity Health.
Others said repeal without immediate replacement would cause massive job losses in the health care field, striking a tremendous blow to the overall economy.
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, said his constituency could lose 24,000 jobs; Hernandez said Kern could lose “a good portion” of the 5,000 health care-related positions created by the ACA.
Steve Schilling, CEO of Clinica Sierra Vista, was more blunt. In light of uncertainties surrounding the health care law’s future, he’s slowed the filling of vacant positions.
“We’re taking a cautious approach at the moment. It’s not good. I’m not happy,” Schilling said.
Repealing the act could reverse successes Kern Medical Center has seen, Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez said.
“For years, Kern Medical struggled with budget deficits and unstable finances,” Perez said, adding that in 2009 the county was forced to cover $47 million in uncompensated care from patients who couldn’t pay. Now that facility is financially solvent.
“We can’t ignore the critical role the Affordable Care Act has played in Kern Medical’s dramatic financial turnaround,” Perez said.
Two of Dignity Health’s hospitals, Mercy and Bakersfield Memorial, would lose $92 million, resulting “in a devastating blow” that would lead to limiting services, Benham said.
But it’s not about jobs or the economy for scores of Medi-Cal consumers who turned out to the hearing Thursday.
“We’re not only looking at job loss. We’re looking at life loss,” said Julie Otero, a local woman who has two lung diseases. Without the ACA, Otero would not have been able to afford her medication, the costs of which amount to more than what she earns in a month.
“If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be here today.”
State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, who organized the hearing, said he chose Bakersfield for it because the region has the most to lose if the act is repealed.
He told The Californian before the hearing that it didn’t include dissenting opinions because he didn’t want “negativity.” The hearing’s purpose, he said, was to hear what patients stand to lose from a potential ACA repeal.
McCarthy’s office responded by pointing to an opinion piece the congressman released Thursday. In it, McCarthy pointed to the quality of insurance under the ACA being “dismal” and revealed that the “centerpiece” of the replacement plan includes a refundable tax credit delivered every month.