California Advocates React to American Health Care Act

Last week, the American Health Care Act passed the House of Representatives, and health advocates say millions of Californians’ coverage is at risk. Photo: Thinkstock

Five million of California’s poorest and most vulnerable residents could lose their health coverage if the American Health Care Act becomes law, health advocates say.

The bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives last week, calls for an $880 billion cut to Medicaid, the program that funds health care for low-income people.

That would cost California $6 billion a year in 2020, with losses steadily rising until they get to $24 billion a year by 2027, according to a state analysis. The state currently gets about $100 billion a year in Medicaid funding.

“To give you a sense of $24 billion, that is the equivalent of what the state budget spends on all higher education – UC, CSU and community colleges and the Department of Corrections combined,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy organization. “This is not the kind of money you can say we can make up.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for review. It is the first step in Republicans’ bid to repeal and replace former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Nationally, a chorus of advocacy groups opposed the bill, including a long list of prestigious doctor’s associations such as the American Medical Association, and the American Academic of Pediatrics, and advocacy groups including the AARP, the American Diabetes Foundation and the American Lung Association.

The proposed American Health Care Act drastically changes the structure of Medicaid, which since its beginnings in 1965 has provided funds based on how much states spend on Medicaid. Under the bill, federal money would be capped through block grants, or fixed-per capita amounts.

One of the 14 California Republicans to support the bill, Congressman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said on his website that his constituents pleaded for a replacement to Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He cited problems such as soaring premiums and dwindling choices of health providers. He stated on his website: “There will be no reductions for children’s health care in California.”

Parker Williams, a spokesperson for LaMalfa, said that the Children’s Health Insurance Program covers children and will be reauthorized before it expires, ensuring continual coverage for children’s health care.

Children Now, an advocacy group, disagrees with that statement, saying that the bill would be particularly hard on California’s children. Sixty percent of children in the state receive coverage from Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. Out of the 5 million total California residents at risk of losing coverage because of cuts to the Medi-Cal program, half a million are children.

“The rate of uninsured kids would definitely go up in California,” said Kelly Hardy, senior managing director of health for Children Now. Projections indicate that the rate of uninsured children in California would increase from 3 percent to 10 percent because of the proposed caps on Medicaid spending.

Hardy said that of 5.7 million California children covered by Medicaid and CHIP, 75 percent are enrolled in Medicaid and just 25 percent in CHIP. In LaMalfa’s district 69 percent of the children are enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP.

The cuts could also endanger health care for people with disabilities and would make it harder for California to provide funding for dental, mental health care and addiction services, according to the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network.“You cannot call this a replacement plan,” said Sarah de Guia, the group’s executive director. “It doesn’t do anything to replace anybody’s care.”

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