Both of Bakersfield's congressmen voted for the American Health Care Act Thursday as the legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act moved forward.
The vote by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, was expected. The position of Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, was an open question until the bitter end.
“Obamacare is failing. Under the law, our Central Valley communities were prevented from recruiting medical professionals, our emergency rooms were overflowing, and parents were unable to choose the best health-care options for their children," Valadao said in a statement. "As a parent, there is absolutely nothing more important to me than ensuring families have access to quality, affordable health insurance.
"Possession of an insurance card does not equate to health-care services and medical treatment. The American Health Care Act will stabilize our health-care system, ensuring our community has access to high quality, affordable health care."
Valadao was co-author of a critical $8 billion provision added to the bill late that would fund premiums for high-risk patients.
While McCarthy's 23rd Congressional District is a bastion of Republican red, registration in Valadao's largely poor, diverse 21st District is very blue.
The district voted 55.2 percent for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in November.
Valadao has held the district through three election cycles with solid political strategy and by charting a moderate, pro-immigration stance.
Critics of the bill — including none other than Gov. Jerry Brown — called Valadao's move a betrayal of his constituents.
“This cruel and ill-conceived bill — the so-called American Health Care Act — rushed to a vote with no fiscal analysis, will hurt American families and it's bad for California," Brown said in a statement that specifically called out Valadao and other Republican lawmakers. "Millions will lose coverage, those with pre-existing conditions will be abandoned and costs will skyrocket.
“Just look at the districts of Representatives David Valadao (R-Hanford), Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) and Steve Knight (R-Lancaster) where 111,000, 109,000 and 76,000 Californians, respectively, are at risk of losing coverage because of this legislation."
Joining in the criticism was a group of progressive activists and Democratic party stalwarts who met outside Valadao’s Bakersfield office on M Street at noon Thursday.
They had intended to urge him not to vote for the American Health Care Act. But just before they arrived, the news broke that the bill had passed and Valadao had supported it.
“Valadao’s vote today puts my life and the lives of the people like me at risk,” said Juanita Chavez of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, who has a pre-existing medical condition. “There will be massive rate hikes for people with pre-existing conditions.”
Pedro Naveiras said he is one of the many people who will be affected by Valadao’s vote.
“He sold out his district. He sold out his constituents for a partisan Republican vote,” Naveiras said. “I promise you we will remember this in 2018.”
Jessica Nix of the Young Progressives coalition called Valadao’s $8 billion funding concessions for high-risk patients a “bandaid on a bullet wound.”
McCarthy, on the other hand, argued on the House floor that Obamacare is what's failing people with pre-existing conditions.
“So, you know what doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions? A health care system that doesn’t have coverage," he said. "No options means no coverage. That’s the road Obamacare is leading us down, and doing nothing leaves too many Americans out in the cold. And Mr. Speaker, we will not stand for that.
“We tried the Obamacare way. It is failing remarkably, and the American people are demanding a change. Now we have the chance to do something great. We can have care without control, stability without centralization, and support without mandates. We have the chance to listen to the American people and repeal and replace Obamacare."
He also pointed out recent reports that Medica, the last insurer selling individual policies in most of Iowa, likely will exit that market and Aetna will leave Obamacare markets in Virginia next year.
"So now, 94 of the 99 counties will have no insurer in Iowa — 94 of the 99 counties in Iowa will have no insurer," McCarthy said. "Here’s another headline from yesterday: ‘Aetna will exit Obamacare markets in Virginia in 2018.’
"Humana left the Obamacare exchanges. Blue Cross left Nebraska. United Healthcare left all but a handful of markets this year. You see, Mr. Speaker, we have roughly 3,000 counties in all of America. One-third — 1,022 — only have one provider. Soon, more counties will have none."