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Despite delay, Calif. lawmakers vow to fight Senate health bill

"We’ve got to kill [the GOP health bill], and then after that, if there’s the will, we can look for ways to improve our health care system," Gov. Brown said Tuesday. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Local and state politicians welcomed Tuesday's news that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has delayed the vote on the GOP health bill. But they, along with a number of health industry leaders,  said it won't affect their resolve to fight for the legislation's ultimate defeat.

All five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors held a news conference Tuesday to protest the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The supervisors then went into their weekly meeting to hear testimony from a dozen health industry leaders, including the heads of each of the county health departments. That testimony was briefly interrupted by cheers from the audience when the news arrived that the Senate vote will be delayed.

"We have to be relentless," Supervisor Hilda Solis said moments after hearing the news. "We have to be making sure that our voices are heard."

Republican lawmakers and President Trump vowed Tuesday to press forward with their efforts to pass the bill, arguing that Obamacare is a failure and they must act to stabilize the nation's health insurance system.

"No amount of tinkering will change the fact that this bill would devastate health care in America, and we can’t let that happen," U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein said in a conference call with reporters.

Sen. Kamala Harris and Gov. Jerry Brown joined Feinstein on the call. Calling the Republican legislation "very divisive" and "hateful," Brown said, "we’ve got to kill it, and then after that, if there’s the will, we can look for ways to improve our health care system."

State lawmakers acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act has its flaws, but they point out that California has made some of the greatest gains under the health care law.

"The highest priority is to make sure that the Affordable Care Act is protected," said State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Azusa), chairman of the Senate Health Committee. "And if we are to have a real conversation about health care, we should use the Affordable Care Act as the floor and look how we’re going to improve it. We should not be talking about being punitive and taking services away."

Sixty-two-year-old Ken Bascom of Venice is among those Hernandez worries would be punished. He lost his insurance when he lost his job as a bank manager in 2007. Two years later, Bascom started experiencing back pain.

It wasn’t until 2014, when he got on Medi-Cal under Obamacare, that Bascom’s doctors discovered the source of the pain was a cancerous tumor on his left kidney.

"Had it not been for the [Affordable Care Act] we would have not caught the cancer in time," said Bascom. "I would have been probably dead."

An end to the Medicaid expansion would force local clinics to make tough choices, said Louise McCarthy, CEO of the Community Clinic Association of L.A. County.

"Unfortunately, folks will have to close sites," she said. "Some folks will end up maybe having to merge because they can’t stay afloat as their own organization. Staff will lose jobs."

The clinics McCarthy represents added 300,000 patients since 2014, most of them on Medi-Cal.

"Even though today we got a little bit of relief by them delaying the bill … it doesn’t mean that we’re done," she said. "There is going to be political horse-trading throughout the weekend and into next week, and we have to remain absolutely vigilant to make sure it does not pass. Period."

County officials estimate 1.2 million residents who qualified for Medi-Cal under Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid would eventually lose their coverage under the Senate bill, which would phase out the expansion.

Supervisors noted that one of every 20 Medicaid recipients in the U.S. lives in L.A. County. Statewide, one in three Californians is on Medi-Cal.

"This was effectively the epicenter of the uninsured in the nation," said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Local officials estimate another 323,000 county residents with private insurance would lose their federal subsidies under the GOP plan.