It was billed as Coffee & Casual Conversation with Congressman Jeff Denham. But the gathering at the Teen Center here, intended to focus first and foremost on local issues, immediately became about the Turlock Republican’s vote last week in the House to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act.
Coffee and a spread of doughnut holes, pound cakes and other treats appeared largely untouched as people kept their throats clear and their hands free to question and point fingers at the congressman.
That he faced, at best, a mixed audience was clear from the activists planted in front of the center with protest signs and props including a “flip-flop throne” and a pole with a sign saying “liar, liar” and pants adorned with felt flames.
We’re focusing on preventive medicine, which this bill now wants to cut. We were helping more with research to develop technologies to make health care safer and of higher quality. We were holding hospitals accountable for higher quality.
Mechelle Perea-Ryan, nurse practitioner
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Denham had stated on the record he would vote against the AHCA “until it is responsive to my community. There are things in the Affordable Care Act we expect to stay,” Denham said at an April 17 event in Denair, specifying coverage for pre-existing conditions and expanded Medicaid coverage.
He then “abruptly changed his mind to a ‘yes’ vote – one of the deciding votes – behind closed doors,” according to Wayne Adler of Indivisible Manteca, one of the groups represented at Tuesday morning’s gathering.
Inside the teen center, the congressman defended his vote. “When amendments come through and bills change, if it’s the issue I’ve been focusing on, like lack of access in the Valley or pre-existing conditions ... I’m focused on making sure pre-existing conditions are in the bill. So adding $8 billion to the risk pool was something I was very, very focused on.”
I vote on bills that I think are the right thing for my community. ... I have a lot of meetings with doctors, with hospitals, with health plans ... to figure out why the challenges of the Valley are different from the challenges of the state, and why the state of California is different from the rest of the country.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock
He said he’s been fighting to get more physician residencies in Valley health clinics, to make sure reimbursement rates are high enough that doctors will see Medi-Cal patients, and to get a medical school here.
But such statements were met with complaints he was comparing apples to oranges.
The AHCA does not support any of the positive changes seen under the ACA over the past three years, said Mechelle Perea-Ryan, an Oakdale-Riverbank area resident and nurse practitioner whose career in health care spans 25 years.
“It’s hard to see in full fruition what the ACA is doing because it takes time for change to occur, for outcomes to occur,” she told Denham. “So when you guys are repealing and replacing what you don’t fully see the benefits of, but obviously your constituents do, because they’re fighting against it. So they see the promise, they see the benefits, just as I have seen the benefits the last three years.
“Things like prevention, that is so important, and actually has been shown in research to decrease the cost of overall chronic conditions. Those are the kinds of things we want to continue to move on.”
My concern is Washington is sacrificing a safety net for the poor and middle class for the gain of the wealthy (by) giving the 1 percent a ... $750 billion tax cut.
Matthew Mapier of Modesto
Another constituent asked why Congress couldn’t just fix perceived problems with Obamacare instead creating havoc and scaring people by undoing it.
“You’re dealing with people’s lives and people’s health care and we need to make sure we get it right,” Denham replied. “... There were some good things that came out of the Affordable Care Act, but there were also some challenges we have to work together as Republicans and Democrats to fix. And pre-existing conditions was one of those things where I stood strong to make sure we address those in this bill.”
“Your vote does nothing for me,” said Riverbank resident Darleen Patrick, who identified herself to Denham as a 55-year-old Army veteran with a pre-existing condition. “My premiums will be allowed to skyrocket. ... Because of my age, my premium can go five times what I’m paying right now if this passes.”
She said the congressman put himself “on the line” with a vote for a bill that not even Senate Republicans back, noting reports that they expect to start “from scratch.”
On Tuesday evening, Denham was scheduled to speak at a private reception at the Dust Bowl Brewing Co., in Turlock. Before the event, protesters with signs lined the street.
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327