Opinion Columns & Blogs

Make your voices heard on GOP repeal of Obamacare

Wendy Johnson, center, of Clovis joins with others Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, near the River Park mall in north Fresno protesting the potential dismantling of the Affordable Care Act by Congress.
Wendy Johnson, center, of Clovis joins with others Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, near the River Park mall in north Fresno protesting the potential dismantling of the Affordable Care Act by Congress. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

They number 5 million strong in California, and they have an important story to tell. But their voices are being drowned out by the rancor of politics of the most partisan kind.

They are the working men and women from every corner of the state who now live their lives with the security of knowing they have basic health care coverage.

This is a decency that a society as plentiful as the United States ought to be ashamed not to provide. And yet the political party that holds sway in Washington – the same party wanting to put forward tax breaks that will benefit no class of people more than the super rich – is now poised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Repeal and replace Obamacare” has become a kind of mantra of the Republican Party, an utterance meant to sound bold or indignant or even politically correct. But it’s one thing to feed rhetorical red meat to your most committed followers in a tweet. It’s quite another thing to play fast and loose with matters of human life and death.

As the chair of the California Senate’s Health Committee, I am holding a hearing Thursday afternoon in Bakersfield so that residents of the San Joaquin Valley can tell their firsthand stories of how the ACA has changed their lives for the better. The committee is also interested in finding out more about the shortcomings in Obamacare and how it might be improved rather than gutted.

We chose the Valley for three reasons.

One, few regions in the country had more gaps in their health care system than the counties of Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern in the years before implementation of the act.

Two, the 75 percent growth statewide in Medi-Cal under the ACA – from 7.9 million recipients to 13.8 million recipients – is greatest in the rural, inland counties filled with the working poor. Indeed, no region has seen more per capita growth in health care coverage than the Valley.

In Fresno County, the proportion of people covered has jumped from 38 percent to 50 percent. In Tulare County, it has gone from 43 percent to 55 percent. In Kern County, it has grown from 34 percent to 45 percent. And no region has prospered more from the jobs created by this expansion than the Valley: 6,000 jobs in Fresno, 3,000 jobs in Tulare, 5,000 jobs in Kern County.

Three, the communities that have most benefited from Obamacare are some of the very same communities represented by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who is among those heading the effort to repeal the act. The Republican leadership has no viable plan yet, and if it comes up with one, I stand ready to work with it on it to ensure it has tangible solutions for Californians.

I represent the San Gabriel Valley, a region not unlike yours that is still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. I am a health care provider who has seen how shabbily the old system treated the uninsured and how the ACA, imperfections and all, changed the fate of people in real time.

Twenty million Americans – 5 million among us – now count on its provisions to treat their pre-existing medical conditions and provide a health safety net for their children until they finish college and find a decent job that might provide private medical insurance.

The Senate Health Committee wants to hear from some of these voices at 3 p.m. Thursday in the Board Chambers of Kern County Administrative Center. Our hope is that both legislators and residents will leave the hearing better knowing what is at stake if the Republicans in Congress really turn “repeal and replace” from a slogan into a slash.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, a West Covina Democrat, is an optometrist and chairman of the Senate Health Committee. He represents the 22nd state Senate District and can be contacted at Senator.Hernandez@senate.ca.gov