When the House of Representatives rushed to narrowly pass the American Health Care Act – otherwise known as the AHCA or Trumpcare – in early May, Congress didn’t bother to wait for the official analysis of its cost and coverage impacts.
So when the independent and nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finally produced its report, it didn’t just show that 23 million more Americans would become uninsured, or that low-income and older patients would see premium increase by 800 percent or even more. The CBO score directly refuted every rationale that Rep. Jeff Denham offered for reversing his position and voting for this awful bill.
Just a few months ago, Rep. Denham had told about 1,000 of his constituents at a town hall in Denair that, “I’ve expressed to leadership that I’m a ‘no’ on the health care bill until it is responsive to my community.”
Yet nothing about this bill he voted for is responsive to the needs of Californians living in the Central Valley. The minor amendments made between Denham’s statement and his vote only made a bad bill worse – a bill that will be disproportionately disastrous for many living in Denham’s district.
At that same town hall, Denham said, “I want to make sure that if you now gotten health insurance for the first time because we expanded Medi-Cal then you are able to keep that.”
Yet he voted for a bill that would roll back the Medicaid expansion, meaning that around 4 million fewer Californians – and 77,000 in Denham’s Congressional district alone – would ultimately lose Medi-Cal coverage, California’s version of Medicaid.
Few areas in the state depend more heavily on Medi-Cal that the Central Valley. More than 40 percent of Denham’s district, over 300,000 Californians, depend on such coverage. Yet the CBO analysis shows that AHCA caps and cuts Medicaid by $834 billion which amounts to a 25 percent cut to the state within a decade.
The cuts are so massive that the state would have no choice but to cut eligibility, benefits and access for the 14 million Californians who rely on the program.
After the vote, Rep. Denham’s explanation focused on the need to for the state of California to invest new tobacco tax dollars in Medi-Cal.
Rep. Denham and Rep. David Valadao also introduced legislation to increase these provider rates. It was the height of hypocrisy for Rep. Denham to argue the state should invest $1 billion a year in Medi-Cal when he just voted to slash the program 24 times that amount within a decade, according to a California Department of Health Care Services analysis.
Rep. Denham said he voted for the AHCA after listening to doctors, hospitals, and clinics in the area—but every group representing these constituencies were opposed to the bill. The direct impacts on providers would be massive, impacting even those not on ACA coverage. For example, San Joaquin General Hospital, the only trauma center in the county, would lose at least $50 million in annual revenue impacting staff and services for all in the area.
The only honest argument for the cuts to Medi-Cal and Covered California is that it funds a massive tax break to drug companies, health insurance executives, and those making over $250,000 a year. That might help some people in Silicon Valley or Beverly Hills, but precious few in Modesto or Denair or Manteca.
Now the U.S. Senate is taking a crack at a similar bad policy, but knowing the harm such a policy will inflict they’ve kept all their conversations secret.
It’s clear that these healthcare bills are a bad deal for Americans. As patient rights advocates, we urge Rep. Denham to disavow his vote, and refuse to support any Senate bill that cuts or caps Medi-Cal, undoes the Medicaid expansion, cuts subsidies in Covered California, or undoes essential benefits or other patient protections for those with pre-existing conditions, who are also disproportionately represented in the Central Valley.
His vote was a betrayal of his promise to the people of California’s 10th Congressional District. His desire to “improve” the Medicaid program while simultaneously seeking to dismantle it is a stunning deception, putting hundreds of thousands of his constituents at risk of losing care.
Anthony Wright is executive director of Sacramento-based Health Access California, a health consumer advocacy coalition. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.