The following article is a guest column by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz:
Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed what they are calling the “American Health Care Act,” a piece of legislation many representatives admitted they had not read and did not know the cost of, but rushed to approve nonetheless. This is troubling on many fronts and demonstrates what happens when elected officials put their party before their constituents, the people. A bare majority of House Republicans voted in support of the Act and then celebrated while states, counties and worried families were left to calculate the real, human costs of this ill-conceived Republican win.
Were this Act to become law, thousands of Erie County residents would be among the millions of Americans who would lose their health care coverage. Furthermore, this Act would actually cost county taxpayers more money in the future while simultaneously taking away care from more people. It’s a heartless piece of legislation that doesn’t help residents but instead actively hurts them. Because of the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion there are 45,212 more people covered by Medicaid today than in 2013, prior to the passage of the ACA. Additionally, due to federal subsidies the county receives from the ACA, the county's portion of Medicaid is approximately $17 million less than it was in 2013. It’s easy to see that the Affordable Care Act has been working here, with more people receiving health care at lower costs to the county. These are our neighbors, our friends and members of our communities who rely on ACA-provided health care for themselves and their families. They are also the people targeted by this mean-spirited legislation.
Under the Act’s provisions the expansion of Medicaid is to be phased out by 2020, meaning tens of thousands of Erie County residents will lose their health care outright. People with any of a wide range of pre-existing conditions are at-risk of losing their coverage, as well as individuals suffering from mental health issues (including addiction) and people with disabilities. The most vulnerable individuals in our communities and those who are just one health scare away from insolvency would see decreased coverage and an uncertain future with these proposed cuts. This is unnecessary and unacceptable.
The ACA did what it set out to do in Erie County – tens of thousands more of our fellow citizens now have health insurance – and the passage of the AHCA puts all of those people’s future health care at risk. It is discouraging that local House Republicans didn’t even take the time to read this Act before passing it. Perhaps if they did they would have realized it eliminates the state’s Essential Health Plan, a move that would cost the state about $3 billion annually while knocking thousands more low-income families off health care. That callous attitude is an affront to all Americans.
There is still time to derail this destructive Act before it becomes law. Please contact Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and tell them to reject this ill-advised bill. You just may save a neighbor’s life.