Uncertainty over Affordable Care Act Puts Older Adults in Limbo

Because of the Affordable Care Act, Denetta Betancourt has access to doctors for her health care needs. Photo by Donna Griggs-Murphy.

The Republican-led Congress has vowed to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. This has left many people worried about their health coverage.

“The ACA has made it possible for many Alameda County seniors to get health care they couldn’t access before,” says Wendy Peterson, director of Senior Services Coalition of Alameda County.

“Especially for low income seniors, this access means adding years to their lives. We need to work together to make sure that older adults continue to have the benefits they receive under the ACA.”

Some 807,000 Californians age 55 to 64 have gained Medi-Cal coverage thanks to the ACA. Medi-Cal is what the Federal Medicaid program is called in California.

This month, Republicans in Congress released a plan that calls for repealing and replacing the ACA.

According to Peterson, seniors benefit from multiple programs in the Affordable Care Act, and and the new plan will cause problems for them.

As things stand now, low-income seniors benefit through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. Those not yet 65 are able to obtain Medi-Cal coverage but the Republican plan  would end the expansion.

In Alameda County, over 102,000 people who are age 64 or younger have Medi-Cal health coverage thanks to the ACA. Denetta Betancourt of Oakland is one of them.

“Because of my Medi-Cal coverage, I’ve been able to deal with many health challenges, see specialists, and continue treatment with my primary physician,” says Betancourt, who is 59 years old.

She was employed until 2009 when she had a workplace injury. Even though Betancourt is younger than 65, she was able to qualify for Medi-Cal. The coverage enabled her to access doctors, physical therapy, and dental care.

All of this has proved to be a “game changer,” because Betancourt, a diabetic with thyroid disease, now has Stage 3 Kidney Disease.

Of the 3.66 million Californians who have gained Medi-Cal coverage because of the ACA, 42 percent are Latino and 9 percent are African Americans.

In a 2017 study, researchers found that up to 3.7 million people are insured through California’s Medicaid expansion. And, another 1.2 million Californians receive subsidies to buy affordable health insurance in Covered California.

These and many other Californians stand to lose from an ACA repeal in some way — either through lost access to affordable coverage or to lost jobs created by health insurance expansion.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is actively opposing the repeal and replacement of the ACA, and has launched a web site to help community members share their stories, find resources and join advocacy to protect Medi-Cal and the ACA. 



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