As Republicans in Washington, DC continued their slow roll this week toward what many of them are hoping will be a health care bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), hundreds of their constituents in Fresno, CA — a rural city and county in the heart of the Central Valley — expressed strong support for the ACA at a documentary screening and panel discussion about health care, held on Monday night at the Fresno Art Museum.
The satirical documentary, Salud! Yes, Please, follows comedian Grace Parra across California as she speaks to people about the importance of having affordable health insurance. The doc was produced by Fusion’s parent company, Univision, in partnership with The California Endowment, a private health foundation.
Millions of Californians could be impacted if Republican lawmakers manage to repeal the ACA and pass a health care bill that cuts spending on Medicaid, but the communities with the most at stake are arguably those in the rural Central Valley where about 50% of the population relies on Medi-Cal, the state version of Medicaid. Ironically, Central Valley counties — stretching from San Joaquin in the north to Kern County in the south — have historically voted Republican.
Reporters from Fusion’s Rise Up: Be Heard program asked young people who attended the screening in Fresno how they or their loved ones might be personally impacted if the ACA is repealed, and what message they would like to send to their elected officials in Washington.
Gerson Cortés, 26
“I am a full time student and my parents don’t really help me with anything. I am out there, I’m on my own, and it feels awesome but at the same time I have no safety net… The worst that can happen is I lose my benefits and I’m stuck with a monthly bill of $5,000 from my chemotherapy, and I either [find] a way to pay for it or decide to say, ‘Well… there’s just no way to continue.’
To the senators that might be thinking about repealing the [Affordable Care Act], all I can say to them is… keep in mind that we will remember, keep in mind that many of us vote. And you know, you’ve heard us, you’ve heard our families and if you do not stand for our voices, if you do not reflect [your] constituents then there is no reason for your constituents to continue voting for you.”
Jess Contreras, 27
“Personally I have benefitted from [the ACA] and my mother has benefitted. She was recently diagnosed with [an] illness… She couldn’t eat or sleep and she was losing a lot of weight. Thank god for healthcare: all the medical expenses were able to get paid, her disease was able to be detected early on, and now she is doing great.
We all know [Republican Congressman] Kevin McCarthy, right? He hasn’t given us one town hall meeting in regards to this issue. We’ve been there constantly at his door and we haven’t heard nothing from him. So he needs to stand up and fight for what he needs to do right, he needs to fight for his constituents, and come November if doesn’t vote the way we want him to, then we are going to vote him out.”
Patrick Antunez, 21
“Well personally, I get Medi-Cal. I haven’t really used it yet because I stay healthy, but it’s just nice to know that I have it. And my little brother, he had heart problems as a child. So if my parents didn’t have help from Medi-Cal then they wouldn’t have been able to afford [his care] and who knows what would’ve happened to my baby brother. So I am really thankful for it.
I would just say to [elected officials], think about if it was your child, if you had to choose health care or put food on your table, you know? Just try to step into the people’s shoes and do what’s best for the people.”
Marco Sanchez, 19
“Most of my family relies on Medi-Cal in order to get all the medication we need. For example, I wear glasses and glasses are super-expensive. I (also) use mental health services for depression and anxiety, so [losing my Medi-Cal benefits] would greatly affect me.
To the elected officials, I’d just like to say keep in mind who you’re representing, who you’re working for. You’re working for us and you need to keep in mind the constituents that you represent who elected you and put you in office because they trusted you enough to represent them.”
Alyssa Binion-Luttrell, 20
“It would affect me and my family [if the ACA were repealed] because my little brother has been fighting asthma his whole life. His bills would go through the roof. We’ve already had struggles with money [due to his] healthcare, even though it was covered by our insurance — only about 70 percent though. And the rest, it was still a lot. It put a dent in our savings; it put a dent in our everyday life. It would really crush us and we would all have to get full-time jobs. I would probably have to quit school and that’s not something my mom or my dad would really want.
So, it’s very important. Elected officials, please listen to us. Please don’t ignore us. When we need you, we need you. We elected you because we need you. You have a say in this, so please, make it happen.”
Marco Ocaña, 22
“What’s not at stake, seriously? It is the life of my community, the life of my friends, the life of my family. The Affordable Care Act, what it really did… in a country where many people are degraded everyday, we finally have some kind of acknowledgement where you are finally human enough to be able to see a doctor.
I don’t think they (elected officials) understand what is at risk — how many families will be affected if any changes are made to the Affordable Care Act or Medi-Cal.”
Ricardo Anthony Reyna, 22
“My parents, their health issues are a big concern of mine, and without health care we’d be in a very big financial rut — which we kind of already are, but (at least) we have health insurance.
I would ask [elected officials] to put themselves in our shoes. I know it’s not always easy to do that. But if you can grasp a concept of what we have to go through as residents of this community I think it will give you a wider perspective on why we fight so hard for [health care] and why we believe in it.”
Rise Up: Be Heard is a health journalism training and mentorship program for young people living in underserved communities in California, and is supported by a partnership with The California Endowment.