Lack of health care access a gateway to homelessness
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
Headlines about homelessness increasing in Orange County appear regularly in the media these days, along with images of riverbed encampments and stories about crime, hope, the lack of affordable housing and the need for a stronger safety net.
The problem is big, and it’s real, and it’s growing in our home county — something none of us can ignore.
That’s why I’m so surprised that we haven’t heard from the elected officials working on homelessness issues about the impact the current proposed health care repeal could have on homelessness in Orange County.
Over the next week, the U.S. Senate will consider whether to repeal Obamacare and replace it with the so-called Graham-Cassidy solution. To be clear, there are some aspects of the Affordable Care Act that are troublesome for working Americans, such as the so-called Cadillac tax on employer-sponsored health care plans.
But this bill is not the answer. It would roll back many of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including ending protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
It could also further threaten employer-sponsored health care by opening the door for employers to terminate their health care plans and instead provide a Health Savings Account subsidy to employees, which would require them to find their own health care on the open market.
And it would exacerbate the growing homeless crisis here at home.
Here’s how: An analysis by the UC Berkeley Labor Center projected health insurance coverage losses for counties across California if Graham-Cassidy passes.
For Orange County, the wreckage would be huge, with nearly a half-million Orange County residents losing coverage by 2027. Some 81,000 of those who would lose coverage are children enrolled in Medi-Cal, 5,400 are seniors, and more than 121,000 are residents who are currently enrolled in Covered California who would no longer have access to affordable health care.
So what does this have to do with the homeless crisis we are all facing in Orange County?
First, many Orange County residents are just one health care disaster away from being unable to pay their rent or mortgage. Take away insurance coverage and that number grows.
Second, talk to any public health nurse, social worker or homeless neighbor struggling to get off the streets and they will tell you that when homeless residents can’t meet their basic needs, then the idea of taking steps toward finding work and housing can seem insurmountable.
So reducing homelessness here will require us to expand access to health care for those living on the streets, not reduce it.
Homelessness has been an issue in Orange County for a long time, and it’s encouraging that so many people are now paying attention and appear to be working toward solutions. However, every elected official engaged in the issue acknowledges that the effort is extraordinarily complicated, involving many constantly moving parts. One of the obvious constants is the need to ensure that appropriate resources are dedicated to the health care needs of our homeless neighbors.
So if an elected official is serious about reversing the trend toward homelessness, it is axiomatic that she or he must be serious about ensuring adequate health care coverage. That, in turn, mandates vigorous opposition to the current repeal effort in the Senate, and imposes an obligation to proactively intervene and help block passage of this misguided repeal scheme.
Our success in addressing homelessness here at home depends on it.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: September 22, 2017