By Jonathan Goetz
Photo credit: Tom and Nadine Abbott
Photo, left: Dr. James V. Dunford, UCSD ER Director
January 19, 2017 (San Diego) — Leaders at Sharp Healthcare joined with patients and two Democratic Congressional members outside Sharp Memorial Hospital on Sunday, January 15th, to voice concerns over Senate Republicans vote last week to begin repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, without first passing a replacement plan or providing details of any proposed plan for public review.
Dan Gross (right), Executive Vice President of Sharp Healthcare which owns and operates Sharp Grossmont Hospital in East County, three things from Congress regarding the Obamacare repeal. “Sharp Healthcare requests, at a minimum, future legislative actions include the following,” he stated.
“First and foremost healthcare coverage for more than 20 million newly insured Americans must be maintained. Any future replacement strategy must guarantee this great achievement continues,” he said, adding that otherwise, “legislation must be enacted to refund the $300 million Sharp has obligated” for Obamacare.
Sharp Healthcare’s third demand is that “changes to the Medicaid program must ensure that federal funding to the State of California not be reduced and keep pace with future inflationary costs.”
San Diego Congressional members Susan Davis and Scott Peters, both Democrats, also spoke at the Sharp press conference.
Congresswoman Davis stated, “We cannot allow ourselves to get so caught up in the politics of the moment that we ignore the human tragedy of repealing healthcare.” She added, “In San Diego alone, 300,000 would lose access to their healthcare if these reckless actions succeed.”
Davis asked pointedly, “Does anybody really think that we should go back to a time when preexisting conditions made a person uninsurable? When women were forced to pay more than men and when seniors had to pay more for prescription drugs because of the donut hole?”
Congressman Peters shared his views. “A repeal would not only leave millions of Americans without health insurance, it would blow a crater sized hole in the federal budget.” Citing Congressional Budget Office estimates, he said repeal of Obamacare or the ACA would add $350 billion to the federal deficit, an action he calls “one of the most fiscally irresponsible actions this Congress could make.”
Peters noted that Obamacare has provided benefits beyond just expanded coverage for millions of tens of millions of Americans. “When we have a healthy work-force we have a more productive workforce that can more effectively build our economy,” he said, adding that the ACA has allowed working people to change jobs and has given entrepreneurs the ability to start their own companies without fearing loss of health insurance.
The Congressman said he is known for crossing the aisle to improve pending legislation and suggested Speaker Ryan include him in future discussions. He listed five things that would improve the ACA, including a couple that Republicans typically stress more than Democrats. Peters said, “Instead of repealing the ACA, I would encourage Speaker Ryan to work with us on making constructive improvements such as reducing costs, investing in prevention, increasing choices for consumers, streamlining regulations and reducing burdens for small businesses."
Dr. James Dunford, Professor Emeritus of Emergency Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and a past President of the San Diego Chapter of the American Heart Association, emphasized the need for continuing coverage. “I could not agree more with what has already been stated today,” Dr. Dunford said, adding that it would be “dangerous and foolish” if Congress eliminates the Affordable Care Act without first “demonstrating to everybody a better alternative.”
The emergency medicine expert further observed, “The consequences of a rash act like this would disproportionately threaten the most medically fragile people in our community, and put them at greater risk for strokes, heart attacks, mental health crises and of course a lot more wasteful spending,” referring to a time when the uninsured used the emergency room instead of urgent care prior to passage of the ACA.
He praised Obamacare for helping to eliminate preventable medical errors. Dr. Dunford predicts, “I believe if Congress and the President-elect recklessly eliminate rather than carefully refining the Affordable Care Act, we are destined to experience the biggest medical error ever.”
Vernita Todd (left) represents Health Center Partners, a voluntary association of 17 private non-profit community health centers said, “Our mission for the past 50 years has been to increase access for families and to Americans, which is why we support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a law intended to lower costs, improve benefits and increase access to care.”
She said that the law is “multi-faceted with inter-dependent moving parts.”
Elizabeth Silva (right), a hospice social worker whose lungs are “becoming concrete, dying from the outside in” made an emotional plea. “If the Republicans decide to take this away I may not be here and my 7-year-old would not have his Mommy. But I’m going to fight,” she vows. “I’m going to fight, not just for me, but for everyone.”