Reckless Changes to ‘Obamacare’ Put Latino Lives At Stake

Retaining Obamacare’s Medi-Cal expansion and supporting community health centers means defending the gains we’ve made to bring access to those who need it most.

Last week, Miguel entered our community health center with crippling back pain. Having worked in construction for the last two decades, he suffers chronic pain from untreated work injuries. As the CEO of La Clínica, I know of many Medi-Cal patients across the East Bay with similar stories – people with meager means and acute health issues. Many of our patients, neighbors, clinicians, staff and partners are asking what will happen to our community, to Miguel and his family, if Obamacare is repealed.

Many lives are at stake. Twelve million Californians (1 out of 3) are on Medi-Cal. Last year La Clínica served more than 90,000 patients, and 70% of them benefited from Medi-Cal. We belong to a network of area community health centers serving more than 250,000 patients and a state network of more than 1,150 community health centers that provide care to 1 in 7 Californians. Our community health centers are lean, but with Obamacare’s Medi-Cal expansion, we are able to treat thousands of vulnerable patients who work hard every day. Without covered primary care, many like Miguel get sicker, develop complex health problems, and are more likely to die early. At a time when housing costs are beyond the reach of many in the East Bay, we treat more and more homeless adults. Many of them came under the Medi-Cal umbrella with Obamacare. (The East Bay Express reported on the real connection between housing and health in August).

We remain anxious, but undaunted, in the face of President-elect Trump’s promise to strip away this critical access without a certain plan to help people like Miguel. This is not the change we need. Our model demonstrates that locally governed health care can improve lives while lowering health care costs. We are the most cost-effective model of care to reduce disparities and improve outcomes. Interfering with the current Medi-Cal system will only drive the costs of care up with more uninsured patients heading to the emergency room instead of less costly community health centers like La Clínica.

Presidential administrations and Members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle have made investments in community health center expansion for the past 16 years because they know they deliver value for patients and for the federal taxpayer. Community health centers have been and remain the frontline responders in addressing the challenges of access to care, as well as emerging public health threats, such as the nationwide opioid epidemic, the Zika virus, and lead contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.

Today, 25 million mostly working class people, including 305,000 veterans, all across America rely on their local community health centers for primary and preventive health services. They are asking their local, state and national policymakers not only to preserve the services they have in their own communities, but also expand those services to others who need them. To do this, we need to maintain Medi-Cal expansion under Obamacare and fully support community health center funding at the national level.

With the abrupt change in national government, La Clínica wants to ensure our local community that we are still here to see patients. To our immigrant neighbors particularly concerned about safety and wellbeing in an environment of fear, we stand by you. We will be collaborating with our immigrant organizations to protect your access to care. At La Clínica, we echo the words of our state leaders Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on November 9: “California is – and must always be – a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations – regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love.”

We expect our federal government to uphold these same beliefs, as they are not different from our national values. Retaining Obamacare’s Medi-Cal expansion and supporting community health centers means defending the gains we’ve made to bring access to those who need it most. We cannot risk peoples’ lives by acting recklessly. Any changes must be considered carefully and thoughtfully with people like Miguel and his family in mind.

Jane Garcia is CEO of La Clinica.

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