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People at town hall challenge Denham to ‘show your face,’ speak with constituents about ACA repeal

Ruben Arceneaux of Modesto tells his story Wednesday at a town hall on the Affordable Care Act at College Avenue United Church of Christ in Modesto.
Ruben Arceneaux of Modesto tells his story Wednesday at a town hall on the Affordable Care Act at College Avenue United Church of Christ in Modesto. kcarlson@modbee.com

About 300 people gathered in a Modesto church for a town hall Wednesday evening, urging Republicans in Congress not to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Union groups and health advocates kept up pressure on Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, to not support dismantling the federal health program unless there’s a new plan that protects consumers and covers more people.

Chanting “Show your face, show your face,” people challenged Denham to hold a public meeting on the emotion-charged issue, which divides residents of the 10th Congressional District in Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County. Almost 24,000 residents of Denham’s district have insurance through the Covered California exchange, and an estimated 86,000 have benefits from the ACA’s expansion of Medi-Cal eligibility.

Another refrain was heard in the packed auditorium of the College Avenue United Church of Christ: Don’t repeal the ACA, or leave it alone for now.

Ruben Arceneaux of Modesto told the audience an injury caused him to lose his job and health insurance provided by a water company. He ran out of medicine to treat his diabetes, and a toe became infected on his swollen left foot, he said.

Without insurance, Arceneaux sought treatment for the diabetes-related problem at the emergency room of Memorial Medical Center. Gangrene had set in, and the Modesto man spent a month in the hospital, followed by 30 days of home care.

At the hospital, Arceneaux was signed up for coverage through Covered California, he said.

“If I had not had (ACA coverage), I would have lost my foot and even my house,” said Arceneaux, 64.

The North Valley Labor Federation, Health Access and other groups organized the town hall. Republican leaders have not agreed on a plan for repealing the federal health program that resulted in coverage for 1.2 million Californians and boosted Medi-Cal enrollment.

Denham’s opposition to the 2010 health care law has support from conservatives in Stanislaus County, where the voter registration numbers for Democrats and Republicans have flipped over the years.

Denham did not respond to a request for an interview Thursday and has not scheduled a town hall on health care.

The congressman’s staff said a representative attended Wednesday’s town hall to hear constituents’ concerns. A handout shared at the meeting gives Denham’s position and encouraged people to share ideas by taking a health care survey. People with concerns or comments were invited to contact his office by phone or social media or send Denham an email.

Denham’s statement says the “ACA is a knot of tangled legislation filled with loopholes, taxes, cumbersome legislation and uniform policies that cannot be undone.” It says the congressman is committed to “engaging in meaningful dialogue with constituents in order to improve the quality, access and affordability of health care.”

Ken Jacobs, director of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, said a replacement plan from the GOP-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump could mean an end to billions in federal funding for the Medicaid expansion, shifting costs back to the states. California and other states would be faced with cutting health benefits for the poor. California’s Medicaid program is called Medi-Cal.

The ACA has prohibited insurers from denying coverage for people based on their medical history. Jacobs said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has favored state high-risk plans for people with pre-existing health conditions.

High-risk pools for people with cancer and other diseases existed in the days before health reform but were costly for patients, Jacobs said.

“You have to put in a lot of money,” he said.

Lidia Rodriguez, a home health worker from Turlock who cares for a son disabled by a 2003 shooting, said her family relies on Medi-Cal.

“I don’t like the idea that we have to take a step back,” said state Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno. “There is a social injustice happening today.”

The Democratic Party has said it is targeting Denham’s congressional seat in the 2018 election.

Denham’s health care survey is at http://bit.ly/2leu6T1.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16

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