Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, joined in Thursday’s House vote to replace the Affordable Care Act.
The vote to undo one of President Barack Obama’s signature achievements was close, and the bill faces even tougher odds in the Senate. But the measure received the votes of all 14 Republican members from California in passing 217 to 213.
Denham said he signed on because of an amendment that would provide $8 billion over five years to help those with pre-existing conditions pay for medical costs. But states still can opt out of making insurers charge those people the same amount as those without the conditions, as well as requiring insurers to offer “essential health benefits.”
Denham said the GOP’s American Health Care Act “is a good first step toward putting control over personal health care choices back into the hands of individuals – not the federal government – while ensuring important protections remain in place for those with pre-existing conditions and in high-risk pools.”
The vote drew criticism from Patty Hughes, founder and president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Stanislaus County.
“Jeff Denham just led the pack on one of the worst human rights violation votes ever,” Hughes said. “Health care for all is a human right. This vote is evident that the GOP has no heart or soul for Americans, or for life.”
Juan Vasquez of Ceres, who became eligible for Medi-Cal through the Affordable Care Act, protested Thursday outside Denham’s district office.
“It is crazy,” he said. “He tells us one thing and does another. I am in shock.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told the Washington Examiner that the bill would have a hard time passing the Senate in its current form. Any changes to the bill in the Senate would have to be approved by another vote in the House.
“There are undoubtedly going to be some changes,” Hatch said.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., introduced an amendment to the bill Wednesday that smoothed its passage. The bill also repeals the individual mandate, the employer mandate and certain taxes.
The replacement would keep dependent coverage until age 26 and continue to bar insurers from placing lifetime limits on what they will pay to cover someone’s medical expenses.
House leadership chose to hold the vote before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office gave its estimates on the bill’s effects. CBO estimates on the first version of the replacement – namely, that 24 million fewer people would have insurance under the Republican version – stirred up opposition to the bill.
Denham, whose district takes in Stanislaus and southern San Joaquin counties, acknowledged that Obamacare has increased coverage in the San Joaquin Valley. But he said California still suffers from low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates and the district has trouble recruiting physicians.
More than 22 Republican votes against the replacement – along with all Democrats – would have meant failure. But the House Freedom Caucus, who helped deliver the killing blow to the original replacement bill, supported the latest version. The previous bill was pulled from a vote at the last minute, as Republican leadership realized they didn’t have the votes to pass it.
Tim Robertson, executive director of the North Valley Labor Federation, predicted the bill will cause thousands of people in Denham’s district to lose health coverage.
“By choosing sides with Donald Trump in giving tax breaks to millionaires, Jeff Denham has given the people of this district grave concerns about his ability to represent us,” Robertson said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson contributed to this report.
John Holland: 209-578-2385