Four Democratic Congress members representing parts of Brooklyn rallied with unions and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s head of the municipal hospital system against what they claimed was the deadly threat that Republicans in Washington will go through with longstanding plans to erase President Barack Obama’s signature health care bill—and then fail to replace it with a comparable program.
Gathering in the auditorium of Woodhull Medical Center, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney lambasted House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President-elect Mike Pence‘s announced intention to immediately attempt a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The Senate Budget Committee has already proposed voting on the matter during the budget reconciliation process, where Sen. Charles Schumer‘s 48-seat Democratic minority would be unable to use the filibuster to obstruct it.
Some Republican senators, however, have expressed reservations about abrogating Obamacare without simultaneously instituting a substitute—a concern the New York representatives hit upon again and again today.
“I have a copy of the Republican healthcare plan right here,” said Clarke, holding up a blank sheet of paper.
Velazquez, in whose district Woodhull sits, noted that 1.6 million New Yorkers have obtained healthcare through the Affordable Care Act since its contentious passage in 2009—many from Medicaid. She also warned that rolling back the statute would mean the loss of anti-discrimination protections for women and people with preexisting conditions, and could damage private insurers’ revenues by eliminating the mandate that keeps younger, healthier Americans on the rolls.
“If you start picking away at one part of a system, you will see disasters in other part of the market,” she said. “The Republicans’ promise to ‘repeal and replace’ is a sham. What are they going to replace the ACA with? They have never, not once, put together a defensible coherent plan.”
President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly vowed on the campaign trail to supplant the Affordable Care Act with “something terrific,” though he never specified what that would be. Since his shock victory over Hillary Clinton last year, he has indicated he would like to leave certain provisions intact, including those allowing children to remain on their parents’ plans until the age of 26 and barring insurers from denying coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition.
Jeffries, like his colleagues, inveighed against Ryan’s separate proposal to convert Medicare into a system of vouchers for private insurance. Democrats believe these vouchers would prove insufficient to cover many seniors’ needs, and would prove less efficient that current public delivery of healthcare
“We are not going to step back, we are going to fight back,” he said. “They want to end healthcare as we know it in America. Because Republicans don’t believe healthcare is a right. They believe it is a privilege.”
Maloney used the strongest rhetoric, warning that a repeal of Obamacare could prove fatal.
“This is literally life and death. If you have good healthcare, you are healthy. If you don’t, you can, you can possibly die,” said Maloney, whose district consists of the Upper East Side of Manhattan with fragments of Brooklyn and Queens. “Thank you Mr. President. We’re going to fight to save your legacy and expand your legacy of healthcare for all.”
The congresswoman noted De Blasio has already launched an $8 million effort to sign up as many qualified New Yorkers for insurance through the ACA’s exchanges as quickly as possible—a last ditch effort to discourage the GOP from overturning the law by maximizing the disruption it would cause in the industry.
But an analysis by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, a Manhattan Democrat, determined that a component of the ACA factors heavily into the crippling $1.8 billion budget deficit projected for the public hospital system by 2020. The law calls for decreasing federal subsidies for heavily used “disproportionate share hospitals” like Woodhull and the city’s other public medical facilities, leaving them in he lurch for millions of dollars.
But Stanley Brezenoff, who has served as interim president of NYC Health + Hospitals since Dr. Ram Raju stepped down last November, dismissed the suggestion that rolling back Obamacare would preserve DSH outlays as “fool’s gold.”
“No one I know in the field, starting with me, believes that is anything but a false, a false hope,” said Brezenoff, arguing the loss of revenues from the newly insured would outweigh the benefits of steady DSH funding—and suggesting the GOP would likely target those dollars as well. “The overall threat is much greater than the dollar amount in disproportionate share, and I have absolutely no faith that the Trump Republicans will do anything but target those DSH payments as soon as they figure it out.”
The structure of the House of Representatives makes New York’s Democratic delegation largely inert. The only Republican representing Brooklyn or any part of New York City is Congressman Daniel Donovan, whose district mostly consists of Staten Island, and who voted in favor of repealing the healthcare package last year. The city has grown increasingly dependent on Donovan to advocate on its behalf in the House, which has earned the GOP pol plaudits even from former critics like Jeffries.
The GOP has blamed Obamacare for the skyrocketing prices in healthcare premiums, and the increasing cost of administering Medicaid. It was a point Suffolk County Congressman Lee Zeldin made in a statement earlier this week.
“Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced,” he said. “Health care in America must work better and become more affordable, relieving taxpayers of the financial burdens under this failed policy, and give patients more choices, while still continuing to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on their parent’s policy. This is an ongoing process and I am willing to work with anyone on either side of the aisle to strike an appropriate balance not only for Long Island and New York, but for all Americans.”
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.