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Local health care providers concerned about GOP bill, but urge patience

Local health care providers concerned about GOP bill, but urge patience

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House passage of the GOP's American Health Care Act on Thursday drew criticism locally from major health care providers, though most said the best plan is to stay calm and see what happens.

Bob Freeman, CEO of CenCal Health, a nonprofit community-based health care organization that contracts with the state to administer Medi-Cal benefits through local care providers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, said it's too early to tell what the bill means for the future of health care. 

He likened Thursday's vote to "scoring a touchdown in the first quarter in a football game," and said that "nothing is definite." Freeman also said he believes that many changes will be made to the plan the before it goes to the Senate. 

"I highly doubt the bill would pass on through as is," he said. "I think the most important message from today is, this doesn't make the American Health Care Act the law — patience is a virtue. A lot can happen between now and when it goes to the Senate." 

Freeman also said he hopes lawmakers will find a way to replace the funding that would be stripped away if the bill gains final approval.

Clearly, the bill, if it were to pass, "wouldn't be good for the people here that get health care in our area, because you're taking money out of the system," Freeman said. "It's very hard to have a system be efficient if a large amount of resources are being taken away over time." 

He also said that to project the future of health care for Central Coast residents would be pure speculation. If the bill received final approval with no amendments, he said, there is a chance that about 45,000 people in the area could lose coverage, "but I highly doubt that will actually happen."

"We're just remaining calm, and letting things play out, but if the worst-case scenario does happen, it obviously wouldn't be good, but our job would be to manage that change," Freeman added. He noted that he isn't focusing on how the bill would impact CenCal as an organization, but how it would affect those who would lose their insurance coverage. 

"We'll continue to work around the circumstances, assess what resources are available, the best ways to allocate those resources and other things," he said. 

Dignity Health, one of the nation's largest health care systems with a 22-state network of more than 9,000 physicians, 62,000 employees and 400 care centers, voiced dismay at the bill's passage by the House.

"We are disappointed with the House passage today of the American Health Care Act (AHCA)," the organization said in a statement. "We support policies that ensure health coverage is available and affordable for all. We are concerned that the AHCA reduces coverage for the nearly 20 million people who access care through the Medicaid expansion and the exchanges." 

Dignity Health criticized the plan for abandoning Medicaid expansion, which, when paired with the significant cuts to the Medicaid program, will reduce the ability to provide care for the most vulnerable population, including children, the elderly and disabled people in the community. 

"We urge the Senate to develop legislation that provides coverage to those who need it and protects access to care through the Medicaid program," the statement said.

Rep. Salud Carbajal, a Democrat who represents the Central Coast's 24th Congressional District, criticized his colleagues in the House, stating that "the House majority took a bill that leaves 24 million Americans without health insurance, and made it even worse." 

"The AHCA leaves Central Coast families with fewer protections, allowing insurers to make coverage prohibitively expensive for people with pre-existing conditions," Carbajal said.

He also warned that millions will see their premiums and out-of-pocket costs increase 25 percent on average, because of an added "age tax" imposed on Americans over the age of 50.

"It is unacceptable for the House majority to have forced a vote on legislation that will impact millions of lives without knowing its full cost or its harmful effects," Carbajal said. "I hope my colleagues in the Senate will put the health of the American people over politics, and reject this misguided legislation." 

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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The following is taken from the Lompoc Police Department's calls-for-service log and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office daily arrest log. Those appearing as "arrested" are only suspected of the crime indicated but are presumed innocent.

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