Rally to Save Obamacare

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles to oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act hours before it was set to go to lawmakers in Washington for a vote.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The rally, convened by APLA Health, was convened to encourage Republican lawmakers to vote against plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The March started on the steps of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in the morning and culminated at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building on East Temple Street in the afternoon.

As the crowd arrived, the count indicated that 28 Republicans intended to vote against the measure, which would stop the overhaul. If all Democrats and 23 Republicans in the House vote against the bill, it would be defeated.

“I think it’s great, I’m hoping those 28 don’t change their mind between now and tonight,” said Dr. Paul Gregerson, the Chief Medical Officer for John Wesley Community Health.

“We believe in justice. We believe in fairness. We believe in healthcare for all!” the Supervisor said.

“If it wasn’t for the Affordable Care Act, I wouldn’t have been able to have my son,” said one clinic patient from Westside Family Health Center who brought her two year son on stage in her arms. “We can’t afford private healthcare, and the ACA has been such a blessing for our family. We are fighting for our right to take care of our next generation so they can be the best citizens they can be!” she said.

40% of the residents of Los Angeles County are enrolled in Medi-Cal. 360,000 residents of the County are enrolled in Covered California.

“Do we have enough faith and enough courage to say, ‘it’s temporary Los Angeles’,” said SEIU ULTCW President Laphonza Butler.

“We’re not going to let them loose their insurance are we? We’re going to keep fighting,” said Department of Health Services Dr. Director Mitchell Katz.

During the press conference after the march, GOP House leaders announced that they would postponed the vote.

“Don’t postpone. Cancel!” the Supervisor said.

The move was seen as a setback for President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan in their first major legislative test.

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Preserving Critical Healthcare Benefits Under the Affordable Care Act

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All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to continue opposing the threatened repeal of the Affordable Care Act, particularly provisions of the landmark law that expanded health insurance coverage and public health services.

Acting on a motion by Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the Board called for exploring and supporting ways to minimize the number of people who could lose health insurance and, at the same time, maximize federal funding for the County’s safety net programs, should a repeal occur. It also instructed the Health Agency to work with stakeholders in developing options for how health insurance coverage could be maintained and/or extended within the County and the State.

“We have to make it abundantly clear that the ACA has tremendously benefited not only the state but the County of Los Angeles,” Chair Ridley-Thomas said during the Board meeting. “Five million people are now insured in the State of California alone, and a repeal is significantly detrimental or injurious.”

“The rhetoric that emanates from Congress is… rather alarming. That we must be prepared is the rationale for bringing forth what would ultimately look like the California solution,” he added. “There’s a lot at stake. We need to be prepared for it, that’s the prudent and responsible thing to do.”

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.

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.

“Improve the ACA. Don’t take away the ACA,” Los Angeles County Health Agency Director Dr. Mitch Katz said during the Board meeting. “If there are things that need to be addressed, let’s make the ACA better.”

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.

“It’s easy to say the ACA will be repealed when you are campaigning. It is another thing to take healthcare away from 20 million people without a plan,” said Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU Local 721, who testified at the Board meeting. “The ACA was created to lower healthcare costs that were out of control. It’s working in Los Angele County and it’s essential that we not lose the progress we have made.”

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.

IMG_0538“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 Board approved 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.

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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

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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

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