Relief and defiance voiced on North Coast as GOP health bill dies

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The failure by Republicans and President Donald Trump to muster the House votes needed to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature health care law left many North Coast residents on Friday breathing a sigh of relief, celebrating a reprieve for a policy they support and a major political loss for an administration they vocally oppose.

The overhaul bill foundered this week amid defections by both moderate and hard-line conservative Republicans, leading Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the American Health Care Act before a full House vote that lacked the GOP support it needed to pass.

“We’re all just pretty ecstatic. It was due to a lot of hard work,” said Lakin Khan, a member of the Petaluma chapter of MoveOn, which has opposed the GOP effort to roll back Obamacare. “The resistance itself is what made the difference. Without making our voices heard, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Khan was among thousands of local North Coast residents who attended numerous town hall meetings organized by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. The gatherings were aimed at publicizing the potential impact of repealing or gutting the Affordable Care Act, which Democrats passed in 2010 on a party-line vote and Obama signed into law.

On Friday afternoon, minutes before the GOP replacement bill was yanked from a scheduled vote, Khan and a dozen other Petaluma activists visited Huffman’s Petaluma office to express their gratitude for defying the Republican agenda.

“We’d like to thank Rep. Huffman for his work supporting the ACA and challenging the Trump agenda, holding town halls regularly for his constituents and listening to us,” Khan said.

Huffman, who was embarking from Washington, D.C., after the day’s action, said people like Khan should “feel a sense of accomplishment.”

“We’re doing this work together and that’s another takeaway from today,” said Huffman. “The American people all over this country and across party lines spoke up.”

Thompson, citing analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said the replacement bill would have resulted in 24 million Americans losing their health insurance. Dramatic changes to Medicaid were projected to deal a $20 billion economic blow to California alone, he noted.

“There wasn’t anything good about this bill,” Thompson said.

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said she was on “pins and needles all day” until the final decision was made Friday to pull the overhaul bill.

“There was so much at stake here,” she said.

More than 54,000 county residents have become newly insured as a result of the Affordable Care Act, she said.

The state’s health clinics have received about $200 million since 2015 through ACA grants, she said. In Sonoma County, Obamacare has led to some 1,000 jobs at area health centers, Zane said.

“The Affordable Health Care Act has set new expectations for health care throughout the U.S.,” she said, citing now mandatory coverage of preventative care, mental health care, maternal care and other patient needs.

Critics of Obamacare blame that mandate and others for skyrocketing premiums paid by many Americans under the 7-year-old health care law.

But Michael Kennedy, Sonoma County’s director of mental health services, said repealing Obamacare would have set the county back in its struggle to improve local care.

“We might actually be able to implement some long-term solutions for those suffering from mental health and substance use issues,” he said.

At Huffman’s Petaluma office Friday, activists credited the political win to the so-called Indivisible Guide movement, an online organizing campaign spearheaded by former congressional staffers aimed at opposing the policies of the Trump administration.

Sandra Rozmarin, a member of Together We Will Stand Indivisible, Petaluma, said the movement in some ways is adopting the “tactics and strategies” of tea party adherents.

“If you really want to exercise power, you need to be in constant contact with your representatives and you need to keep your actions visible in the community,” Rozmarin said.

Trump has already indicated he would allow Obamacare to “explode” before attempting to draft a new bill.

Both Huffman and Thompson blasted that maneuver.

“You own health care now,” Thompson said of Republicans and their control of the White House and Congress. He said GOP lawmakers should work with Democrats to stabilize Obamacare, following California’s lead.

“They were elected to help the American people,” Thompson said. “Taking your ball or marbles and going home is not the appropriate response.”

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