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.