Affordable Care Act improved health and bottom line, speakers say

February 3, 2017

Stephanie Stephens holds up a picture of her daughter at Thursday's board meeting as Lisa Greenfield looks on.

For working mom Stephanie Stephens, the Affordable Care Act has allowed her six-year-old daughter the first hope of eating on her own.

For Wendy Shumway, it helped her leave Portland’s streets. And for Lisa Greenfield, it propelled her from heroin addiction to sobriety - and a job.

“I pay my own rent, I’m 100 % re-engaged with my family, who had basically disowned me because of my addictive behavior,’’ Greenfield said Thursday. “Being on Medicaid allowed me to have a positive, healthy life as a productive, employed member of society.’’

The women spoke Thursday at an emotional meeting as the Board of Commissioners proclaimed their support for the Affordable Care Act.

Commissioners Jessica Vega Pederson and Dr. Sharon Meieran brought the proclamation forward -- their first proclamation as commissioners - in light of President Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal the 2010 legislation. There is no replacement plan on the table.

Health care “is a basic human right and it’s critical it remains in reach for all of us,’’ said Jessica Vega Pederson.

Commissioner Dr. Sharon Meieran, an emergency room physician, she has seen the impact of patients being able to see a primary care provider after their emergency and get the ongoing care and preventative services they need.

“The ACA is not perfect, but it is a lifeline for so many people,’’ Dr. Meieran said.

Under the ACA, often called Obamacare, 95% of Oregon adults and 98% children now have healthcare coverage. Many childless adults received coverage for the first time through the Medicaid expansion.

Domestic violence survivor Wendy Shumway shares her emotional story at Thursday's meeting.

Vanetta Abdellatiff, director of Integrated Clinical Services at the Health Department, said losing that coverage would profoundly affect thousands of the 72,000 people who receive health care through the county’s 26 clinics. Most of them are extremely low income, she said. And, losing the ACA would cost the Health Department $10 million in uncovered costs.

“We would need to close nearly four sites with that kind of gap,’’ she said.

Dr. Marty Grasmeder, medical director for the county clinics, said having access to care had resulted in better health outcomes:  

  • The number of uninsured patients at county clinics has dropped by 50%
  • The number of patients with hypertension has fallen by nearly 10%
  • The number of patients who receive nutritional and physical activity counseling has doubled
  • More children are receiving immunizations
  • 50% more patients are being screened for dangerous cancers.
“That has had a huge impact on people’s lives,’’ Dr. Grasmeder

Stacy M. Cross, President & CEO, Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette called the ACA “ a game changer for women.”

Before the ACA, Cross said that millions of women were denied coverage because of so-called 'pre-existing conditions,' like breast cancer, pregnancy or domestic abuse; or were forced to pay more for insurance just because they were women; or had limited plans.                                               

Since the legislation, about 360,000 Oregon women have access to fully covered services including birth control, routine exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and mammograms for women older than 40 without copays.

“We simply cannot afford to move backward,’’ she said.                                  

Commissioner Loretta Smith said five years ago, she was treated for a pituitary tumor that must be checked annually. Many people benefit from the Act’s provisions which prevent losing coverage due to pre-existing conditions and allow college students to remain on their parents’ plans.

“This board is really in your corner in making sure we have a healthy community,’’ Commissioner Smith said.

Wendy Shumway, 45, said after a domestic violence assault left her with seizures and permanent organ damage, she was homeless, often sleeping outside the Justice Center on park benches.

Commissioner Vega Pederson (pictured) and Comissioner Meieran brought forward Thursday's proclamation.

“Because I had no health insurance I was often re-traumatized by health care officials, who labeled me many times as a drug-seeking hypochondriac,’’ she said. “I often had to wait in lines early in the mornings at places like TPI and Rose Haven just to get help paying for my dental and primary health care visits. Sometimes I had to sit in front of the Westside clinic from 4 a.m. till it opened in order to get the one and only non-insured slot in order to obtain continuity of care and help with housing.”

“Getting health insurance changed my life,’’ Shumway said.

Chair Deborah Kafoury said she found it “frustrating that we are even having this conversation.

“It’s terrifying to think of all the hard work we have put in, to make this plan work, and it has worked, people’s lives have been changed and people’s lives have been saved. The fact we are even discussing rolling this back is shameful.’’

With that the Board voted 4 to 0 to proclaim their support. Commissioner Lori Stegmann was absent.