After the House this week narrowly passed a bill to repeal so-called Obamacare and replace it with a health care program endorsed by President Trump, advocacy groups stood up to warn constituents that the Republican strategy for insurance coverage could put millions of Latinos into the frigid waters of the uninsured.
It has been estimated that 20 million to 24 million Americans would lose their health insurance as a result of the American Health Care Act, aka Trumpcare. L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement this week that "potentially millions of families here in L.A. County" could be affected by the Trump plan. The bill narrowly passed on Thursday, with not one Democrat supporting it and 20 Republicans voting no. It faces a Senate where some leaders have vowed to start from scratch, so it's not a sure thing.
But Latino groups this week weighed in with alarm, saying that the bill that would essentially withdraw health care expansion under Obama's Affordable Care Act while wreaking havoc on the health of the Golden State's largest racial or ethnic group, Latinos.
"Latinos were the group that benefited the most from Obamacare because they had the highest uninsured rate in the country," says Jorge Silva, senior communications adviser for the Latino Victory Project and the former national director of Hispanic media for the Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
CHIRLA (the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights) this week cited estimates that 4.6 million Californians, many Latino, could lose their coverage under the Trump plan. Angelica Salas, executive director of the L.A.-based nonprofit, said in a statement that Trumpcare "is an abomination, a slap on the face to working Latino families."
Jorge-Mario Cabrera, the group's director of communications, added via email, "Latinos, as well as elders and many working-class folks, could see their well-being and health more at risk."
U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz of the Inland Empire, a medical doctor, said on Facebook: "I voted against the terrible American Health Care Act that will harm patients, my constituents and the American people. This legislation drives up out-of-pocket costs for seniors and families, allows insurers to drop patients with pre-existing illness, establishes an 'age tax' that will increase prices for seniors, and results in at least 24 million more uninsured Americans."
Silva of the Latino Victory Project said that Latinos are particularly susceptible to Trump's shrinking insurance footprint because they're more likely to have pre-existing conditions that could prevent them from getting decent coverage or any at all under the bill. The legislation aims to reduce health care costs by creating high-risk pools where folks with health problems could seek coverage. But critics say those pools are a pipe dream that are too costly for patients and too underfunded by the government.
He points out that Latinos are more likely to have those conditions — diabetes, asthma, obesity — that could force them out of the community of insured Americans.
"If this bill puts them in higher-risk pool or targets pre-existing conditions, many Latinos are going to be denied insurance, or they will not be able to get it at all," Silva says. "These conditions make Latinos disproportionately susceptible" to a world without insurance, he says.
The conservative response to that, however, is that the rest of America shouldn't have to pay for the bad habits of a minority group. Silva responds that a key source of Latino health woes is poverty, and that carb-heavy cheap and fast food is often the unhealthiest. "Our community sometimes can't afford fresh vegetables even though they sometimes live next to the fields,"
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Trump's plan would segregate coverage plans and give more authority over coverage to providers. Critics argue that's bad news for America's people of color. "That's how health insurance works," Silva says, "everybody chips in, and those who need it get to use the services."
That's more how Obamacare, which covers 20 million people, and which was inspired in part by a conservative think tank, works. Multiple Latino advocacy groups and political leaders want things to stay that way. "Let's remember that Latino uninsured rates dropped dramatically thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and now Republicans want to take that progress away," Cristóbal J. Alex, president of Latino Victory Fund, said in a statement.
Silva says the Latino Victory Fund, which develops and finances Latino candidates for offices that range from local school boards to U.S. Senate, is already planning on unseating select Republican representatives who voted for Trumpcare.
"We are definitely going to make Trumpcare a big part of the 2018 election," he says.