Preserving Critical Healthcare Benefits Under the Affordable Care Act

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Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas marched to save Obamacare alongside Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and healthcare professionals at this year’s Kingdom Day Parade. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

The Board of Supervisors moved to do all it can to fight the threatened repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to preserve critical healthcare benefits that millions of people in Los Angeles County rely on.

Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl filed a read-in motion that called for continuing to strongly oppose a repeal and any efforts to weaken the critical Medicaid health program which covers millions of County residents. The motion would also direct the County to explore and support any options that would minimize the number of people who stand to lose their health insurance, and maximize the federal funding that the County would need to keep a safety net over its residents, should a repeal occur.

“Rolling back the ACA would endanger the health and economic well-being of millions of people, not only in Los Angeles County but across the country,” Chair Ridley-Thomas said. “We must fight efforts at every step that would endanger this landmark legislation to prevent a tsunami of hurt triggered by a repeal.”

“The new administration in Washington and its threats to repeal the ACA pose a very serious challenge to the health and wellbeing of County residents,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “Should repeal or any significant diminution occur, LA needs to be at the forefront of helping to craft a way to protect those we serve because if it doesn’t work for LA County, it won’t work for California.”

The ACA enabled about 1.2 million County residents to gain health insurance through Medicaid and Covered California. Many more people benefited from other provisions, such as those that allowed children to stay on their parents’ coverage until age 26; required most employers to provide health insurance; prohibited insurers from denying coverage to persons due to pre-existing conditions and capping coverage for persons with catastrophic illnesses; mandated coverage of preventive care and family planning services; and established equity pricing for women.

“It is critical that Los Angeles County and the State of California are prepared to care for those who may lose insurance under threatened cuts to the ACA,” said Los Angeles County Health Agency Director Dr. Mitch Katz.

The ACA also provided medical assistance to newly Medicaid-eligible individuals whose care otherwise would have been funded by the County. It provided more resources for the County’s In-Home Supportive Services program that serves the elderly and persons with disabilities, as well as for public health programs.

Board Chair Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Kuehl warned that aside from potentially stripping people of their health insurance, a repeal of the ACA could have dire consequences for the County’s economy. They cited a recent study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and UC Berkeley Labor Center, which warned a repeal could trigger a loss of 63,000 jobs in healthcare and other industries and of $5.8 billion in gross domestic product.

“As the Union representing LA County’s healthcare workers, we know we cannot afford to go back to the days where care was done in the emergency room,” said Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU Local 721. “It is Washington’s responsibility to protect or create a plan that works for everyone. Here in LA County, we are ready to defend and fight for a plan that delivers the care that our communities need.”

States have special powers and resources for creating insurance coverage – Massachusetts, for example, passed a health plan that predated the ACA. A health plan has also been considered in California, and Board Chair Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Kuehl stressed that the County be involved in its development, considering the massive size of its uninsured population.

Their motion called for sending a five-signature letter to the County’s Congressional delegation expressing the County’s support for preserving the ACA, especially provisions that expanded health insurance coverage and public health services, and opposing a reduction in Medicaid funding for California and the County.

Their motion instructed the County’s Health Agency Director and CEO to develop options for maintaining and/or extending health insurance coverage for residents of the County and state. Their report, due in sixty days and monthly thereafter, is to include input from stakeholders, including patients, patient advocates, health care providers, organized labor, insurance groups, hospitals, public health and mental health advocates and professional associations.

Care Harbor 2017 Underscores Healthcare Need

An estimated 3,000 people from underserved communities in Los Angeles County sought free healthcare at this year’s Care Harbor mega-clinic, prompting renewed calls to preserve the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas helped kick off the three-day event at its new location, The Reef, where volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists, optometrists and other professionals provided primary and specialty care, immunizations, screenings, eye exams, dental extractions and various other procedures – all without charge.

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Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas noted the ACA serves 1.5 million residents of Los Angeles County, halving its uninsured population, many of whom turn to the annual Care Harbor mega-clinic for treatment. “Care Harbor fills the gaps in our healthcare system that are clearly present today,” he said. “As its volunteers patch over the bare places in our healthcare safety net, we witness Los Angeles at its best, helping its own.”

“There is no question that without the ACA, it will be much harder for the County to efficiently provide healthcare and preventive care for hundreds of thousands of Angelenos,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “And Los Angeles County already has a humanitarian crisis on its hands, with some 47,000 men, women and children homeless on any given night, critically needing services like healthcare.”

Care Harbor, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, organized the mega-clinic with help from grants and resources provided by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas; LA Care Health Plan, the nation’s largest publicly operated health plan; Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation; and assistance from more than 50 organizations and about 3,000 volunteers.

Several County departments also participated, including the Health Services, Public Health and Mental Health. The Department of Public Social Services, meanwhile, helped people enroll into Medi-Cal and CalFresh.

Services provided during Care Harbor include:

  • free medical care, including specialty care;
  • dental care, with extractions and partial dentures;
  • vision care, including prescription glasses;
  • immunizations, including flu, t-dap and shingles;
  • screenings for oral cancer;
  • mental health counseling and linkeage to care;
  • METRO TAP cards including a free day-pass with unlimited use; and
  • extensive educational presentations and exhibits to promote wellness, self-care and healthy lifestyles.
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Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

MLK Community Hospital Draws Praise

A year and a half after its grand opening, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors commended the staff at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital for providing such high quality care and for its efficient operation. The hospital has become one of the busiest in Los Angeles County, and is also drawing heartfelt praise from patients in an area the federal government had deemed medically underserved.

“We’re now on track to have 75,000 emergency department visits this year and it’s still going up – that’s twice what we projected prior to opening,” Dr. Elaine Batchlor, the hospital’s chief executive, testified before the Board of Supervisors.

“This is one of the busiest emergency departments in the County, despite the fact that we’re a small community hospital,” she added. “We have about 25 to 45 paramedic runs a day now.”

Dr. Batchlor said the recent flu season also brought in a surge of patients, adding, “We are completely full.”

mlk4With leadership from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the 131-bed hospital opened in August 2016, promising compassionate, innovative and quality care to the residents of South Los Angeles – regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. Its grand opening ceremony came eight years after the closure of troubled King/Drew Medical Center on the same medical campus in Willowbrook.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas congratulated the hospital administrators and staff, which currently numbers about 1,100. Dr. Batchlor noted 80 percent of the staff belongs to minority populations and, thanks to a local hiring preference policy, more than 50 percent of the staff lives within seven miles of the hospital.

“There’s nothing but good news here,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at the Board meeting, which he chaired. “(The hospital administrators and staff) have done what we would have hoped, which is to open that hospital, serve patients well and hire a workforce that reflects the composition of the patients.”

At the Board meeting, Dr. Batchlor read aloud a few messages from patients at the hospital. “I found peace here,” she quoted one as saying. A second patient said, “I was scared when I arrived and even the doctor in the E.R. made me feel safe – so glad to have had them.” A third patient added, “Thank you for giving our community a great, great hospital.”

Supervisors Janice Hahn, Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl and Kathryn Barger all offered congratulations to the hospital administrators and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “There’s no question that what we’re seeing today is a direct result of your hands-on commitment to the community,” she said.

The County’s Health Agency director, Dr. Mitch Katz, said the success of the hospital was due in part to the Affordable Care Act, which about 1.5 million County residents depend on for health insurance coverage. He warned against efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, saying “We’re all concerned that major changes in the Medicaid expansion or the elimination of the (health insurance) exchanges will turn numbers back to where half of the people coming into MLK Community Hospital and others will be uninsured again.”

Marching for the Right to Healthcare

Kingdom Day 2017

Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called for preserving the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while marching with dozens of Los Angeles County healthcare workers at the Kingdom Day Parade celebrating the life and legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

“(Dr. King) stood for healthcare as a right, not a privilege,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas declared as he walked the entire two-mile parade route brandishing a sign that said “Obamacare Works.” He noted 4.8 million Californians – including 1.5 million residents of Los Angeles County – could lose their health insurance coverage if President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare legislation is repealed.

“We must oppose all efforts to repeal the ACA, especially its provisions which expanded health insurance coverage,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Certainly, any proposal to repeal without a replacement is reckless – it would be like blowing up a bridge while people are still on it.”

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Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

“If all or parts of the ACA are repealed, I support alternatives which would minimize the number of uninsured California residents and maximize federal funding with which to serve state residents,” he added.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas marched in the parade alongside the County’s Health Agency director Dr. Mitch Katz, plus dozens of doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners in their white lab coats.

“As a doctor, I know that the ACA has been critical for patients receiving the care they need,” Dr. Katz said. “Loss of the ACA is a loss of health and a guarantee of greater illness.”

An estimated 200,000 people lined the streets of South Los Angeles for the 32nd Annual Kingdom Day Parade, with the theme, “Now More than Ever, We All Must Work Together.” Billed as the nation’s largest and oldest Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration, the parade featured brass bands, descendants of the Tuskegee Airmen, Korean and Aztec dancers, clowns, and many more. It started at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and Western Ave., and ended at the Freedom Fair festival at Leimert Park.

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Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas Issues Call to Action At 25th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas marked the 25th anniversary of the Empowerment Congress, a national model for civic engagement, by urging all citizens to continue the fight against homelessness, oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and be vigilant against efforts to undermine their rights.

“Together, we have harnessed community advocacy and activism to influence government policy on a range of complex issues,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told the nearly 1,500 people who attended the Empowerment Congress summit at USC. “Now, as we work to address the most defining civic issue of our time – homelessness – we must further strengthen our partnership.”

Voters in the March 7 election will consider Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax that would raise about $355 million annually over a decade to provide rental assistance, subsidized healthcare, mental health and substance abuse treatments and other services to help people get off – and stay off – the streets.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said plans to undo the Affordable Care Act would be similar to “taking 30 million people off life support” across the U.S., including 1.5 million in Los Angeles County. He added, “It is imprudent from a fiscal perspective, impolitic from governance perspective, and inhumane.”

During the plenary session, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, who has been nominated to serve as California’s Attorney General, vowed to the crowd, “I stand with you.” Paraphrasing First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán added, “Don’t be afraid, be empowered.” Meanwhile, NextGen Climate president Tom Steyer said, “Civic engagement is the bedrock of our democracy.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn described the Empowerment Congress as the forerunner of the neighborhood council movement and “fertile ground for passion and progress.” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl stressed the urgent need to work together for change, saying, “There’s no ‘I’ in empower.”

The plenary session included an original theatrical performance by the Robey Theatre Company that traced the origin and evolution of the Empowerment Congress.

Founded by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest in Watts, the Empowerment Congress is a partnership among local residents and community leaders, as well as representatives of neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and others. It has several committees that meet throughout the year to discuss various issues, and an annual summit with a plenary session and workshops that regularly draw about 1,500 people.