Obamacare repeal could affect insurance for 150,000 Sonoma County residents
Sonoma County health care officials Tuesday warned the newly introduced Obamacare replacement bill could upend the local health care system, leading to the loss of health coverage or dramatic benefits cuts to nearly 150,000 residents, and cost thousands of jobs and $200 million in economic losses.
The plan, introduced Tuesday by House Republicans and endorsed by President Donald Trump, is already receiving strong opposition from conservatives, who said it failed to establish a free-market health care system, and liberals, who feared it would cause millions of Americans to become uninsured.
Billed the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s plan also included language that would defund Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion coverage. That drew condemnation from abortion rights advocates at rallies at congressional district offices across the country, including at Rep. Mike Thompson’s in Santa Rosa.
“Defunding Planned Parenthood would be devastating to the reproductive health care of women in Sonoma County,” Kim Clement, a volunteer and community organizer, said at a gathering of about 100 people, many carrying signs supporting the organization that also provides birth control, pregnancy screening and testing for sexually transmitted disease to mostly low-income patients.
The GOP plan seeks to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Some 23,000 county residents are newly insured through the state’s Covered California health exchange, while another 35,000 residents have new coverage through Obamacare’s expansion of Medi-Cal, California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. A total of about 150,000 Sonoma County residents are enrolled in private insurance through Covered California or government insurance.
The replacement plan calls for rolling back the Medicaid expansion by 2020. It also calls for capping future spending by funding Medicaid through state block grants.
That would almost certainly cause a future reduction in Medi-Cal services or enrollment, said Barbie Robinson, director of Sonoma County Health Services. Robinson, who has worked at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Atlanta and San Francisco, said “block-granting” Medicaid would essentially shift the financial responsibility to states and counties.
That, she said, would most likely lead to Medi-Cal cuts.
“It would put us on the hook for reducing the number of individuals who have coverage,” Robinson said.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane agreed.
“It’s a cost shift down to states and local governments,” Zane said. “Anybody who knows anything about funding knows it’s bad news. It means a decrease in funding.”
Under the GOP plan, Obamacare subsidies in the individual market would be replaced with individual tax credits to help people buy their own insurance. Also, the controversial individual mandate would be eliminated.
To encourage people to purchase health insurance the plan would allow insurance companies to impose a 30 percent penalty if coverage lapses beyond 63 days.
On Tuesday, some statewide health care groups blasted the GOP proposal, warning it would cause some to lose their health coverage while others face higher costs.
“California has the most to lose because we had the greatest expansion of coverage under the Affordable Care Act,” Anthony Wright, executive director of the Sacramento-based advocacy group Health Access, said on a conference call with reporters.
More than 1 million Californians bought coverage through a new health insurance marketplace, Covered California, while nearly 4 million more joined Medi-Cal, which is jointly funded by the state and federal government.
The Affordable Care Act has led to a drop in the state’s uninsured rate from 17.2 percent in 2013, before the law fully took effect, to ?7.4 percent in 2016, said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, who also participated in the teleconference.
According to University of California health officials, a repeal could cost Sonoma County 2,000 jobs and an economic loss of nearly $200 million.
Thompson, D-St. Helena, who also held a teleconference Tuesday afternoon from Washington, D.C., said he had deep concerns about the GOP, which he said rushed the replacement bill through the House of Representatives without proper analysis of its impact.
“Estimates are that if (Obamacare is) repealed, California could lose 350,000 jobs,” he said. “Without hearings or appropriate analysis, we don’t know that for sure. It’s pretty clear that the tax provisions will be a windfall to some corporations and billionaires.”
On Monday, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, convened a panel of health care experts at a Petaluma town hall where he offered a scathing review of GOP plans.