The Zombie bill–and the stakes (in the heart) in California

The news that the White House and Congressional leadership are going to try again at another attempt on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut and cap Medicaid is alarming.

But it also seems far removed from the experience on the ground as Congressmembers meet with their constituents. According to one Politico article summarizing over a dozen town halls, those who supported AHCA were jeered, while others were cheered on for their opposition, from the left and the right. The failure of the bill was thought to have at least dispersed the concern and allowed citizens to move on to other issues–but on the contrary, the existence of a tangible bill where people had a concrete plan to see how they would be impacted and to respond to seemed to energize opposition even more.

These findings certainly seemed correct with subsequent town hall meetings in California. Health Access and the #Fight4OurHealth were present for town halls this week in Denair, with Rep. Jeff Denham, and Simi Valley, with Rep. Steve Knight. The meetings were packed with hundreds and hundreds of constituents, and with many questions and energy around the health care issue.

What was most notable about these two town halls was that both Congressmen were ones of less than ten nationally to have yet to provide any hint of how they would have voted on the AHCA. They told some of their constituents various and sometimes conflicting answers privately, but never publicly.

It took 1,000 people in Denair, three weeks after the vote, to get Rep. Denham to say he was a no on that specific bill “until it is responsive to my community”–suggesting he was a no but could be convinced to vote yes with changes. Earlier he had stated he wanted those who got coverage under the Medicaid expansion to keep their coverage, and to protect those with pre-existing conditions. Rep. Knight said he was “looking at it until it was pulled” and wouldn’t commit to a yes or no answer. But even he suggested that the higher premiums for older folks under AHCA was a “stumbling block,” and also committed to protect access for those with pre-existing conditions, “like they are under the ACA.”

If they stay true to their word, those¬†two Congressmembers who were previously silent should then be considered two additional “no” votes on the rumored new version of AHCA, which undermines protections for those with pre-existing conditions, continues to cap and cut Medicaid, raises premiums for older folks, and otherwise leaves millions more uninsured. Without a major re-write that addresses those issues, the new AHCA has only been losing votes this recess–and additional defections would be a stake in the heart of these new Zombie proposals.

For the remaining days of recess, there are other California Congressmembers to get on the record–and all of them need to be kept to their word, that any repeal include a replacement that is better in terms of coverage and cost.