Repeal ACA? California's Response Should be Revolutionary, Says State Legislator

By Dan Geiger

Oakland - Assembly Member Bill Quirk said that California may "need to look at a single payer health plan" in response to a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act, in remarks Friday at a Preserve Children's Mental Health in 2017 Forum sponsored by Human Services Alliance of Contra Costa member Lincoln.

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Explaining that if Washington reduces Medicaid funding, it would reduce funds available to states but may likely increase discretionary spending power .  "We're the world's 10 largest economy - maybe California does it's own thing," Assembly Member Quirk said, adding "California's response should be revolutionary." He referred to Germany's single payer system as an example of a system that would be more efficient overall, and more effective at addressing the mental health needs of youth.

Mr. Quirk pointed out that 17% of young people have a mental disability.  The rates are higher for people of color and youth in the foster system, and up to 70% of children in juvenile justice have mental health problems.  "We have to catch it early or society has problems dealing with it.  We have to look at providing care for all", he said.

The Forum was organized and introduced by Chris Stoner, President and CEO of Lincoln, and was held at Lincoln's offices in Oakland.  Speakers at the forum, which addressed mental health care needs of youth, included: Lateefa Simon, President of Akonadi Foundation, Tonya Love, representing Assembly Member Rob Banta, Assembly Member Bill Quirk, Mary Nicely, representing Assembly Member Tony Thurman, Deveon Dillion of Oakland Unified School District, Toby Ewing of Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission, Anna Hasselblad of the Steinberg Institute, L. Karen Monroe, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, Leslie Preston of La Clinica, Kathy Chao Rothberg of Lao Family Community Development, Dr. Lynn Thull of the Alliance of Child and Family Services, and youth speaker Jerimiah McWright.

When asked what the biggest challenges facing providers are, Leslie Preston emphasized overwhelming paperwork.  Not only do clients need to fill out form after form after form, often more than once, but "providers spend up to 40% of their time on documentation", Leslie said.  "Supervisors spend half of their time talking about charts, not about the people they serve.  This should be a policy issue", she said.  The state legislature passed a modest paperwork reduction bill, but the governor didn't sign it.  "This isn't just a county issue - everyone experiences it", she pointed out.  Audience members agreed that this is a policy issue that deserves attention.

Several speakers pointed out that California will be a leader in resisting some of the proposed policies being discussed in Washington.  As Mary Nicely said of the California state legislature, "the election has galvanized us."  Tonya Love said that despite elections, "don't lose heart - California legislators are ready to defend Californians", adding an invitation to contact legislative staff if you have problems or want to help.  

The panelists agreed that we need a system that provides health care for all, and that mental health care for youth is critical.  As Anna Hassleblad said, "there is no health without mental health". The tone of the day was captured by Anna's remark "no, we won't back down; every step we take is one step in the march.  We must care first, not fail first."