January 2017 brings a new year of hope and optimism, but also a new year of challenges and potential obstacles both locally and nationally. Here in Erie County, my focus will remain on improving our economy, connecting our workforce with meaningful employment and continuing education, and protecting our public health and infrastructure. This year will also provide new opportunities to step up our fight against poverty, an issue I gained new perspectives on when I recently participated in the “Poverty Challenge” and lived on roughly $6 of food per day for a week. It was an experience that opened my eyes and underscored the difficult choices that individuals living at the poverty line face every day.
However, it appears that this year’s first order of business at the national level will be to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”, and strip health insurance from millions of Americans, including over 93,000 Erie County residents. With so many people already hurting, it is a cold, stark and heartless beginning to the New Year and clearly demonstrates what is important to the incoming administration and the majority in Congress. It is an ill-advised, unnecessary and destructive choice to make.
The Act has been a lifesaver for millions of low-income individuals across the country, and has helped countless families to access high-quality yet affordable health care. Here in Erie County, due to the Act’s reimbursement formula, the ACA has helped to get more residents covered while decreasing actual Medicaid costs to the county. I regularly join Erie County’s Medicaid Inspector General, Michael Szukala, to review his Office’s reports that clearly show 40,000 county residents now receive healthcare through the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and the vast majority of those newly enrolled recipients are employed. Repeal of the Act would immediately result in these individuals losing their healthcare coverage, just some of the over 93,000 county residents who would be adversely affected by this short-sighted stunt.
In addition, repealing the ACA would have serious budgetary impacts at the state and local level, with NYS losing as much as $3.7 billion in federal reimbursements while our Medicaid Inspector General’s Office estimates Erie County could lose as much as $17 million in revenue annually. The county will be forced to cut elsewhere or raise taxes to make up the difference in lost assistance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Additionally, primary care physicians and specialists will lose patients, and the corresponding revenue from them, as individuals will no longer be able to access these services. These far-reaching negative effects on public health and our economy have been ignored in the rush to repeal.\
We are a stronger community when we are a healthier community, and any attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act will hurt the overall health and welfare of our County.