On January 13, the congressman representing my friend Paola voted to take away her health care.
That day, Rep. Dan Newhouse, representing Washington state’s Yakima Valley, joined 226 other Republicans to begin repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Paola is diabetic. Rep. Newhouse’s vote to take away her health care is a vote to take years off her life.
For more than 20 years, Paola has sorted apples in the Yakima Valley. The work has all but destroyed her hands, leading to multiple surgeries. She often still can’t pick up dishes to wash them or grip the steering wheel of her car.
The company that’s prospered from her hard work and her physical sacrifice now pays her $11.00 an hour, the new minimum wage in Washington, thanks to a ballot initiative passed last year that Paola campaigned for.
Her work in the apple packinghouse is exhausting. Still, she has energy to spare for her community and her church. She co-founded an organization to help women facing domestic violence, and she’s active with OneAmerica, an immigrant justice organization. She registers people to vote. She teaches women about their rights regarding sexual violence on the job.
The day before her congressman voted to start repealing the ACA, I asked Paola what the law meant to her. She said it’s been a blessing.
Before health reform, she was uninsured. To pay for doctor’s appointments, she’d go without groceries. When she saw the doctor, she’d leave with prescriptions she couldn’t fill. When she managed to get medications, she’d skip days to make them last. She didn’t get tests she needed. Her sugar was out of control.
Then the ACA went into effect, and Paola became eligible for Apple Health.
With Apple Health, she told me, she found a clinic that gets her all the care she needs. The nurses check up on her regularly. Her sugar levels are good.
She was terrified, though, knowing Congress would soon vote on her health care.
Paola doesn’t need anyone else to speak up for her, but I wanted to hear what her representative would say about the upcoming vote, so I called his office in Yakima. I asked the staffer what Rep. Newhouse’s position was on taking away people’s Apple Health. The staffer told me Apple Health is a state program – the implication being I shouldn’t worry because Apple Health wasn’t at risk.
But Apple Health isn’t just a state program, and it is at risk.
Apple Health is the name for Medicaid, a joint state-federal program, in Washington state. Through the ACA, the federal government provides almost full funding for states to expand Medicaid for people like Paola – adults with income hovering just above the poverty level – who weren’t eligible before. Repealing the ACA means taking away Apple Health for Paola and about 600,000 others like her.
So, I asked the staffer, what’s the congressman’s position on repealing the ACA?
Oh, he supports repeal, the staffer said. In that case, I asked, what will he do for the people who lose their Apple Health? They’re discussing a few different proposals, the staffer told me. Like what? A block grant for Medicaid.
The staffer presented this block grant proposal as if it were a solution. It’s the farthest thing from a solution.
Here’s what you can expect from turning Medicaid into a block grant: Waiting lists for enrollment. Limited benefits. Less coverage. That’s not only for people like Paola who became eligible for Medicaid through the ACA. These cuts could hit everyone who’s ever been eligible for the program.
If you qualify for Medicaid now, you get full coverage right away. A block grant would destroy that historic guarantee, replacing funding based on need with a rigid funding cap. Under recent Republican proposals, 14 to 21 million people nationwide would lose their insurance – and that’s after Republicans kick off almost 13 million newly eligible people like Paola.
It’s callous to present a block grant as a solution for struggling families.
Either Newhouse and/or his staff don’t understand what a block grant is, or they’re deliberately misleading constituents. How can you tell a caller concerned about people losing Apple Health that your solution is to cut Apple Health even more?
It’s also a cruel irony that, like Paola, many of those who stand to lose Apple Health are actually apple workers and their families.
In Washington, an apple isn’t just a symbol of health. It’s also the state’s top agricultural commodity and a more than $2 billion industry. The day before the 2016 election, Newhouse was hailed as a “champion for agriculture and the apple industry.” That may be true. But you can’t be a champion of the workers – many of them immigrants from Mexico – who sustain that industry when you’re voting to take away their health care.
My friend Paola gets great care through Apple Health. I can’t fathom why her congressman would vote to take it away.
On January 20, OneAmerica, a People’s Action affiliate, visited Rep. Dan Newhouse’s office and asked him to vote against repealing the ACA and taking away coverage from Yakima Valley workers. OneAmerica also asked Newhouse to support immigrant youth who Donald Trump will strip of their legal status by revoking the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Newhouse should co-sponsor the bipartisan BRIDGE Act, OneAmerica said. That bill would enable undocumented immigrants who arrived as children to apply for temporary legal residence.
 The ACA created an eligibility pathway for two groups of non-elderly, non-disabled adults: those without children, who were in most states were categorically excluded from the program no matter how low their income; and adults with dependent children whose income was too high to meet program requirements. (Before the ACA expansion, the median income cut-off for these adults was 61 percent of the federal poverty level.)