Another View

Sen. Kamala Harris: New healthcare plan would devastate rural communities

By: By Senator Kamala D. Harris
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Last month, President Trump and Congressional Republicans gathered in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the House of Representatives narrowly approving a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Celebrating front and center were a number of Republican representatives from California.

Back in Ferndale, California, Ellen Briggs wasn’t celebrating.

Ellen cares for her 92-year-old mother, despite suffering from cancer and diabetes herself. For years, she had to travel hundreds of miles and pay increasing insurance rates because she couldn’t get coverage closer to home. “When the rate rose to $1,000/month, I had no choice but to let the insurance go,” she wrote me. “Luckily, ACA funding of Medi-Cal’s expansion kicked in just in time to cover my cancer surgery and subsequent care.”

But as Senate Republicans prepare to push through a bill similar to the House plan and crafted in secret, Ellen is worried. “I expect I will now lose my insurance and — given my history — again be unable to obtain a replacement at any price,” she says. She’s tells me she’s now talking to a lawyer, “to make sure that my aged mother will not lose her home because of my future medical expenses.”

Ellen is one of millions of Californians — particularly in rural communities — who’ve benefitted from the ACA and would be devastated by this Republican bill.

Thanks to the ACA, 20 million more Americans — including 5 million Californians — have healthcare coverage. The uninsured rate in rural communities has dropped nearly 40 percent. Three quarters of Americans in rural areas can now buy a health plan for about $100 a month. And rural hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA have seen fewer closures and invested more in patient care.

The Republican healthcare plan rolls back our progress. It would cover less, cost families more, and threaten the hospitals and clinics that care for Californians in every region of our state, particularly in remote areas. According to the National Farmers Union, this bill “would fail millions of people, especially family farmers and rural Americans.”

How could this happen? Well, first, the Republican plan covers fewer people. In rural communities, millions of Americans would lose coverage. And for communities and families hit hard by opioid abuse, cutting the Medi-Cal funds that pay for substance abuse treatment would cause many to lose their insurance at the worst possible time.

Second, this plan would actually cost older Americans more, many of whom live in rural communities. The Republican plan allows insurers to charge seniors five times as much as younger Americans. People can’t afford that.

Finally, the Republican healthcare plan would threaten the rural hospitals, clinics, and health centers so many Californians rely on. In more populous parts of the state, residents have access to not just hospitals, but clinics, substance abuse treatment centers, and other medical centers. But in rural areas, hospitals are often the only healthcare providers for miles. These health centers depend on Medicaid and Medi-Calto keep their doors open, which this plan would cut by $834 billion. And the Republican plan ends the ability of women and teens on Medi-Cal to go to Planned Parenthood clinics for services. More than half of those clinics are located in rural or underserved communities.

When hospitals and clinics shut their doors, it harms the economy as well as the health of a community. Fewer hospitals means fewer doctors, nurses and janitors to buy homes, shop at local stores and pay taxes. Researchers at UC Berkeley and UCLA project that in Fresno County alone, the Republican plan would cost an estimated 6,000 jobs and $516 million in economic growth.

Our healthcare system can certainly be strengthened. But instead of playing politics with people’s lives — and taking healthcare from those in need while giving big tax breaks to insurance companies and the top 0.4-percent wealthiest Americans — we should come together to increase access and lower costs.

To the young man struggling with mental illness or opioid addiction in Bakersfield, the stage IV cancer survivor in Visalia, or the family physician in Guerneville, the Republican healthcare bill is not something to celebrate. It’s something Californians should do everything in our power to stop.