As published in the Orange County Register.
SANTA ANA – More than 150 Obamacare supporters gathered Wednesday night to discuss the future of the law and share stories of how access to health insurance has brought security to their lives.
The forum at the Delhi Center in Santa Ana was organized by nonprofit health groups and labor unions in response to President Trump’s pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Critics of the law say that premiums are too expensive and that health insurance should be a choice, not a requirement.
In recent weeks, town hall meetings hosted by Republican lawmakers across the U.S. have drawn crowds voicing opposition to doing away with the health reform law. Organizers said they invited Republican members of Orange County’s Congressional delegation, but none showed up.
Angela Eilers of Yorba Linda said her 7-year-old daughter was born with a congenital heart defect and by age 1, had accrued $500,000 in medical expenses. She will eventually need a third surgery.
She said the ACA’s prohibition of lifetime caps on health insurance benefits eased her family’s worries, but those have been revived by talk of repeal.
“The ACA is an insurance safety net for her and for us,” Eilers said. “Every day since the election we’ve sat and worried. No one should have to sell their home just to afford a surgery.”
Aaron Reyes, director of programs and policy for Community Health Initiative of Orange County, said a repeal would result in millions of Americans losing insurance.
Roughly 142,000 Orange County residents are enrolled in Obamacare health plans sold by Covered California, with 88 percent receiving a subsidy, according to the state exchange. Additionally, about 232,000 low-income residents here have coverage through the law’s expansion of Medi-Cal.
“We have made a lot of gains,” Reyes said. “The uninsured rate in the United States is at the lowest it’s ever been.”
Dr. Jennefer Russo, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties, described patients whose lives were transformed by the ACA. In one case, she said a single mom got enrolled in Covered California and received care for her unmanaged Crohn’s disease that allowed her to keep working.
“They are too often invisible; too busy caring for their families to be politically active,” Russo said. “I believe it is up to us to help defend them.”
Dr. Marco Angulo, who practices at Serve the People Community Health Clinic in Santa Ana, said with Obamacare his sickest patients have been able to gain coverage and see specialists, instead of waiting to become ill enough to go to the emergency room.
“We can’t go back,” he said. “We need to fight for our health.”