Denham, despite pressure from health advocates, sides with GOP on Obamacare repeal measure

Sarah Hunt of Modesto joins advocates for the Affordable Care Act standing outside Rep. Jeff Denham’s office Thursday in Modesto, calling on him not to repeal the ACA without a replacement plan.
Sarah Hunt of Modesto joins advocates for the Affordable Care Act standing outside Rep. Jeff Denham’s office Thursday in Modesto, calling on him not to repeal the ACA without a replacement plan. mbicek@modbee.com

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, sided with fellow Republicans in a House of Representatives vote Friday that’s a step toward repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

His vote was bound to spark an outcry in his district, which is well-populated by the poor and households that rely on health insurance through Obamacare.

Melissa Santos attended a candlelight vigil Thursday outside Denham’s office in Modesto, urging the congressman to consider the medical needs of San Joaquin Valley residents.

“We need to see a replacement plan, if there’s going to be one, before repealing (the ACA),” Santos said. “Some people won’t be able to afford insurance and will lose their coverage.”

Santos, who’s with the nonprofit group Mi Familia Vota, said health advocates talked with Denham’s staff this week and were told he would push for replacement coverage. So far, Republican leaders have not fleshed out the details of insurance coverage to replace Obamacare.

“Who knows how long that will take and if the replacement will be beneficial,” Santos remarked. Her group is involved with voter registration but also advocates for health care access for working people.

An estimated 25,462 people in Denham’s 10th Congressional District have insurance through Obamacare, and more than 90 percent of them use subsidies that make the coverage more affordable. The district includes Stanislaus County and parts of southern San Joaquin County.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medicaid eligibility to single adults, threw open an enrollment window in fall 2013 that added more than 135,000 to the Medi-Cal rolls in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, with almost 33,000 signups in Merced County. The Medicaid program is called Medi-Cal in California.

Denham said he remained committed to the GOP’s promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better.

“Americans deserve affordable, accessible, patient-based health care,” Denham said in a statement to The Modesto Bee. “There are several (ACA) provisions that I believe are good for Americans, such as ensuring care for those with pre-existing conditions. But the ACA made many promises that it simply could not keep.”

Denham said eligibility was expanded through Medi-Cal but that there’s a shortage of doctors who accept those plans. “Between the reduced access, soaring premiums and outrageous deductibles, many Americans are still without the care they need.”

The 227-to-198 final vote Friday was mostly along party lines, with nine Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the measure. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, voted against the budget measure. With the Senate approving the measure earlier this week, Friday’s vote sets the stage for Republicans to write repeal legislation late this month with help from President-elect Donald Trump.

Local agencies and safety-net clinics in the Northern San Joaquin Valley have concerns about the potential fallout from a repeal, such as thousands of people losing insurance and job losses in the health care industry.

At Thursday’s vigil, health advocates and union representatives said premiums could skyrocket for thousands of Valley residents as consumers are pushed out of the insurance market, leaving a smaller and sicker risk pool. As for the economic effects, one study has predicted 3,000 job losses in Stanislaus County.

A repeal of the federal health law would eliminate Medi-Cal benefits for more than 4.1 million low-income state residents and threaten coverage for 1.4 million people who have coverage through the state exchange called Covered California.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16