'We are not going back': California Democrats protest GOP efforts to dismantle Obamacare

Democratic leaders on Monday urged Californians to fight GOP efforts to dismantle Obamacare, saying lives and jobs were at stake.

“We are not going back. Understand that,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said of Republican efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s healthcare overhaul law. “They want to go from affordable care to chaos. They want to make America sick again. We are not going to let that happen.”

Pelosi was one of 15 Democratic lawmakers from California who participated in an event at the California Endowment, a nonprofit healthcare foundation in downtown Los Angeles. It was tied to the observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Downey), who hosted the forum along with Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), said that though Republicans long have called for repealing and replacing the bill, they have not offered any substantive replacement plans.

It “is irresponsible and outrageous and dangerous, because as a result, 20 million Americans will lose their healthcare coverage,” Roybal-Allard said before quoting King: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman."

The event was one of many held across the nation over the weekend as Democrats fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act.

Getting rid of the healthcare law has been a top GOP priority since Obama signed it in 2010. But with Republican Donald Trump taking over the White House on Friday and the GOP in control of both houses of Congress, the possibility is real.

Last week, the House of Representatives and the Senate took the first steps toward overturning the law by passing a budget blueprint along party lines that sets a timetable to draft a repeal bill.

Some Republicans have acknowledged the quandary they face if they do not propose a replacement: In California, more than 5 million people have received coverage through the Affordable Care Act, either through Medicaid expansion or the state’s health insurance marketplace. And, Bass said, 63,000 jobs in California would be lost if the healthcare law were repealed.

But many in the GOP also argue that Democrats have failed to acknowledge major problems with Obamacare — such as high deductibles for consumers, and doctors who no longer take health insurance so they don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy and low reimbursement rates.

Harmeet Dhillon, a member of the Republican National Committee from San Francisco, on Monday called for a bipartisan effort to craft a replacement. She noted that many in her party support preserving some popular parts of the program, such as allowing children to remain on their parents’ plans until they are age 26 and coverage for people with preexisting conditions.

“I don’t think rallying to crowds does anything more than serve as talking points and footage for campaign ads,” she said. “It doesn’t actually solve the system, which any reasonable consumer can tell you is broken.”

Pelosi said Democrats would consider a GOP replacement to Obamacare if it met three tests: not reducing the number of people who are currently covered, not increasing the cost to people who are covered and not diminishing benefits.

“If they have a good idea, let’s hear it,” she said.

Pelosi urged voters with personal stories of how the law has affected their lives to contact their elected representatives.

Three Californians were on hand Monday to tell theirs: a woman who lost her insurance when her husband, a safety officer at Los Angeles International Airport, died unexpectedly; a self-employed musician who was diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes and two forms of cancer; and Maryann Hammers, a self-employed woman who was diagnosed three years ago with advanced ovarian cancer.

“I had a tumor the size of a watermelon,” Hammers said, adding that she had multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy and suffered side effects.

“I lost all my hair, much of my income, most of my white blood cells and a fair amount of my dignity,” Hammers said. “Having cancer is hard. It’s scary, it’s sad and it’s stressful. But there was one thing I didn’t have to stress about — that was health insurance.”

Hammers said she is healthy now, but her cancer is not curable and is likely to recur. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, she said, she might not qualify for insurance because the preexisting conditions provision and the elimination of lifetime spending caps on medical coverage might be gone.

“The Affordable Care Act is my lifeline. Without it, what will happen to me?” Hammers said.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

For the latest on national and California politics, follow @LATSeema on Twitter.

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