ACA replacement threatens health, Oregon jobs

In 2011, I lost my job as a preschool teacher, and with it my health care. Through the Affordable Care Act I was able to purchase health insurance that allowed me to get a cancer screening that saved my life.

Without the Affordable Care Act I would not be here today. I would not have been able to decorate the cake for my daughter’s wedding, find a new career as a personal support worker for people with disabilities, or find my voice as an advocate for the millions of Americans who get health care through the ACA and Medicaid.

Last month, Sen. Ron Wyden asked me to attend the president’s address to a joint session of Congress and tell my story. I sat in the Capitol building and watched the president tell Congress to replace the ACA with “reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better health care.” The new plan,  authored in part by Medford’s congressman, Rep. Greg Walden, fails to deliver on each of these points.

Let’s start with Medicaid. The new proposal ends Medicaid programs such as the Oregon Health Plan, which provides health care to more than 400,000 Oregonians, 25,000 of whom live in Jackson County. In Oregon and around the country, Medicaid plays a critical role in providing health insurance to low-income families, helping seniors afford elder care, and funding services for people with disabilities.

In a move with political theater written all over it, the proposal’s most harmful cuts don’t kick in until after the next major election in 2020. But that doesn’t change the fact that hundreds of thousands of Oregonians will lose their health care coverage if the current proposal becomes law.

The bill also puts a per-person cap on Medicaid funding from the federal government. This change would shift about $370 billion in health care costs from the federal government to the states.

Oregon received $6.4 billion in federal Medicaid funding in the last budget cycle. Without this investment, our state’s budget problems will get even worse. All of my clients — just like many people with disabilities — rely on Medicaid. This new proposal would effectively cut their services. It could put me — and the other 23,000 Oregonians with health care jobs gained under the ACA — out of work.

The proposal would allow insurance companies to charge seniors up to five times what they charge young people for health care, and unemployed people would face a 30 percent surcharge if they allow their insurance coverage to lapse.

These changes will affect all of us as uninsured emergency room visits become more common and young, healthy people let their coverage lapse. Hospitals and insurance companies will pass the costs right on to us.

It’s no wonder that the people behind this legislation are rushing it through Congress. We haven’t even seen the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office that will tell us exactly how many people will lose coverage and how much the bill will cost.

Medford’s representative, Congressman Greg Walden, is one of the primary authors of the proposal. I hope he reads this and thinks about what it would mean for people like me. I owe the ACA my life and I owe my livelihood to Medicaid. I’m not unique. Millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are in the same situation as me.

Congressman Walden’s proposal will likely make health care more expensive, put the state’s budget into an even deeper hole, cut services to people with disabilities, and cost thousands of Oregonians their jobs.

Apparently Congressman Walden wasn’t listening when president Trump told him to replace the ACA with reforms that lowered costs and increased access. Walden’s proposal fails to deliver on both counts.

— Maleta Christian lives in Myrtle Creek.

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