I have lived in the Valley for over 50 years, and for 10 years, I have been CEO of Valley Health Team, a community health center. Our mission is to provide comprehensive primary care services to anyone who walks through our doors, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or their ability to pay.
When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), community health centers breathed a little easier because our patients, who are among California’s poorest and most vulnerable, would benefit.
We’ve made tremendous progress under the ACA, which is why I was so surprised to read a recent opinion piece by Congressman David Valadao (May 22). I’ve known the congressman for several years, and I know he supports community health centers. However, his reasons for supporting the American Health Care Act (AHCA) are troubling on many levels.
I would like to set the record straight on a few important points.
Valadao states that “Obamacare’s devastating impact on the health-care industry effectively reduced access to health-care services and treatment for entire communities.”
This is simply not true. California’s uninsured rate fell from 17.2 percent in 2013 to a historic low of 8.6 percent in 2015. For community health centers, the rate dropped from 35 percent in 2012 to 24 percent in 2015. The ACA did not reduce access to care, but rather, gave people the access to care they deserve. At Valley Health Team, we’ve seen a 92 percent increase in patients served from 2013 to 2016.
Valadao claims community health centers will benefit from increased funding under the AHCA.
He is misinformed.
Yes, under AHCA, community health centers will be given a one-time 2017-18 infusion of $422 million (nationwide), but this money is being taken from other safety-net providers leaving health centers to fill in the gaps.
This amount – spread among more than 1,400 health centers nationwide – is nowhere near enough to fill in the gaps of the other safety net providers or offset cuts to the Medicaid program, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will total $880 billion over the next 10 years.
For health centers like ours around the country, cuts to Medicaid will be devastating to our patients and to our capacity to care for them.
The CBO score predicts 23 million people will lose insurance by 2026 under the AHCA and, unfortunately, the hardest hit populations will be the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. In California alone, 5 million Californians will lose health insurance coverage.
The AHCA’s tax credits, much smaller than the ACA’s, are not likely to cover the cost of insurance on the open market, especially for the sick and elderly, who will see dramatic increased premium variations.
Valley counties with high Medi-Cal enrollment would be particularly hard hit and Valadao’s district has some of the highest Medi-Cal enrollment rates – 37.9 percent in Kings County, 45.1 percent in Kern County, 49.9 percent in Fresno County, and 55.5 percent in Tulare County. Simply put, residents of his district are at risk of losing coverage.
What happens to those who lose insurance? They’ll likely go to emergency rooms to receive care, which will increase health-care costs. The money “saved” by the AHCA will no doubt end up costing taxpayers more in the end.
The AHCA is not good for California and definitely not good for community health centers or our patients. I implore Valadao to meet with us and to learn more about what we need and how we operate. There is room for collaboration moving forward if we are willing to listen to one another and if he will put our patients and his constituents first.
Soyla Reyna-Griffin is the Chief Executive Officer of Valley Health Team, Inc. Valley Health Team has locations in Kingsburg, Clovis, Kerman and more.