Los Angeles County officials gathered Tuesday morning to warn of the impact the Senate healthcare bill could have on the county, which is home to one out of every 20 of the nation’s Medicaid recipients.
The Obamacare repeal bill unveiled last week would eliminate the mandate that all Americans have health insurance, alter the subsidies provided to people who buy insurance through the exchanges and undo several taxes on high-income Americans that are used to fund the Affordable Care Act.
The plan would cut hundreds of billions of dollars in funding over the next decade from the Medicaid program, which provides coverage to 75 million low-income Americans. Experts say states would likely be forced to reduce the number people are in their Medicaid programs or offer fewer benefits.
Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, covers 13.5 million people — or one out of three residents of the state. The proportion is even higher in L.A. County where the population is poorer, and nearly 40% of L.A. County residents are on Medi-Cal, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said Tuesday.
“L.A. is ground zero,” said Kuehl, standing on the steps of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in downtown L.A. Behind her, people held signs reading “Health care is a human right,” “Salud Para Todos” and “#1outof20.”
Medicaid had historically been a program for poor families and the disabled, but the Affordable Care Act allowed states to expand the program to anyone who made under a certain income level. More than 3.8 million Californians joined Medi-Cal because of the expansion.
But the cuts to Medicaid in the Senate health bill would also affect people who’ve been on Medi-Cal for decades, not just reverse the expansion.
“This is actually a lot worse,” Kuehl said.
The Affordable Care Act had a huge impact in California. The percentage of uninsured in the state dropped from 17% before the law went into effect to 7% last year, the lowest rate ever, according to data released this year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Steven Martin, 27, told The Times in an interview that he was worried about losing the coverage he buys through Covered California, the state’s insurance exchange. The Senate bill proposes altering the subsidies that nearly 1 million Californians receive to buy coverage through the exchange.
Last year Martin was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare type of cancer. To slow the growth of the cancer, Martin has to take a medicine that costs $147,000 a year, the Westlake resident said.
“I’m terrified, because CML patients without their meds have two to three years to live at most,” he said.
Health officials also said Tuesday that wait times have fallen dramatically in the emergency rooms at L.A. County’s public hospitals since the coverage expansion because now people can get care elsewhere. They emphasized that the funding from the law is essential to maintain public health and mental health services.
Supervisor Janice Hahn said that she repeatedly voted against Obamacare repeal bills during her time in Congress, from 2011 to 2016. Unlike now, she knew then that President Obama would never sign a bill rolling back the Affordable Care Act, she said.
“If the Senate passes this bill, there will be real consequences,” she said. “If this bill passes, it would be devastating to L.A. County.”
Senate GOP leaders on Tuesday delayed a vote on the controversial bill until after the July 4 recess.