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Denham talks healthcare bill in face-to-face meetings with constituents
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Isobel Castillo protests the repeal of the Affordable Care Act outside of Congressman Jeff Denhams Salida office on Monday with a message written on a whiteboard. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Amid resentment from a growing number of his District 10 constituents, Congressman Jeff Denham answered their calls to meet face-to-face, inviting several groups to his Salida office Monday to discuss issues ranging from the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act to the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Constituents who have recently requested meetings, whether it be through phone call, email, letters or in person at the Congressman’s Mobile District Office Hours, were invited by his office to have brief meetings with Denham himself, and were allowed to bring groups of eight or fewer people. The meetings were limited to 20 minutes each and three pre-approved topics per group were able to be discussed.

“It sounds like they picked the noisiest people from the Mobile Office Hours,” said Guadalupe Villareal of Denair, who was selected for a meeting. “We make a habit of going to them and I think that’s how I got chosen.”

Villareal brought with him seven others who have been eager to have their questions answered by Denham in person. Prior to Monday’s meeting, several members of the group had been trying to get in contact with Denham for months.

“I have tried to get a hold of him a lot, and this is the first time I’ve ever been able to meet with him one-on-one,” said Carole Stark of Modesto. “I’m glad he’s starting to be more accessible to his constituents, but he’s only doing it now because of pressure from the media and people who are mad.”

The constituent meetings came after recent protests throughout the district, including a march through his Turlock neighborhood, a pro-ACA town hall in Modesto and loud Mobile District Office Hours in multiple cities, all calling for Denham to meet with his constituents and hear their questions.

Topics of Villareal and Stark’s meeting with the Congressman focused on the ACA, they said, with the group imploring Denham and other Republicans in Congress to protect current health care legislation.

“The Affordable Care Act was a big concern, because right now people have coverage and they’re afraid they’re going to lose it,” said Roland Nyegaard of Modesto, another constituent in the group with Villareal and Stark. “According to the Congressman, it will be repealed, but it will be replaced so that the people who have the coverage today will have it tomorrow.”

Modesto resident Chris Ricci said Denham informed him he was in favor of several aspects of the ACA, such as the pre-existing conditions clause and allowing young adults to stay on parental coverage until they turn 26. As Ricci and other constituents met with Denham Monday, House Republicans unveiled the health care legislation they plan to put in place after dismantling the ACA, which includes both features Denham said he favors.

Primarily affected by the new health care system would be some 20 million people who purchase their own private health plans directly from an insurer, and the more than 70 million covered by Medicaid.

Under the new plan, private health insurance tax credits would be provided for people purchasing their own health insurance, with subsidies keyed primarily to age, rising as people get older. It also eliminates cost-sharing subsidies in the ACA that helped people with modest incomes meet the costs of insurance deductibles and copayments, expands contributions to health savings accounts, protects people with pre-existing health problems from being denied coverage and lets young adults stay on their parent’s plan until they are 26.

The ACA’s tax penalties on the uninsured and larger employers that do not offer coverage will be repealed as well, along with taxes on upper-income earners, investors, health insurance plans and medical device manufacturers.

In terms of Medicaid, the new system will maintain the ACA’s higher federal financing for expanded Medicaid through the end of 2019. After that, states can only continue to receive enhanced federal payments for beneficiaries already covered by the expansion. For newly enrolled beneficiaries, the federal government would provide a lower level of financing. Each state would also receive a limited amount of money for Medicaid based on its enrollment and costs, and federal funding for Planned Parenthood would be denied for one year.

“Why would you want to defund somebody who is providing a very necessary and vital service?” asked Nyegaard, to which he said Denham had a “noncommittal” answer.

“The ACA does not need to be replaced,” said Modesto resident Patty Hughes, who was also able to meet with Denham. “Fixed? Yes. Repealed? No.”

Hughes was an organizer for the recent march and protest near Denham’s neighborhood, but was dissatisfied with the in-person meetings that came as a result.

“It’s not exactly what I had in mind,” said Hughes. “It was too short for not being able to meet with him for so many years. In 20 minutes, we couldn’t exactly get our concerns across.”

Turlock residents Anthony and Carrie Anne Castillo agreed with Hughes’ sentiments, though they were not invited to a meeting. Instead, the pair joined protestors outside of Denham’s office as meetings took place inside, holding signs that said “I’m not paid to be here Jeff Denham, but you are” in response to recent allegations that protestors are being bussed into the Valley from the Bay Area.

“He’s not interested in interacting with people around here because he knows he’s kind of forsaken the Valley in a way,” said Carrie Anne, who said she has tried to contact Denham’s office many times to request a town hall.

“Show up and do your job. Interact with people. Stick up for us. Save your Valley. This is your home,” she said.

Constituents’ cries for a town hall have been answered, however, as officials from Denham’s office said he will be holding a town hall meeting on April 17. The time, date and other details of the town hall event will be released in the coming days, the representative said.


The Associated Press contributed to this article