Pa. health officials make pitch to keep, repair Affordable Care Act

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Plans to repeal the controversial Affordable Care Act were met with a sharp rebuke Wednesday by Pennsylvania health officials.

Members of Governor Tom Wolf's cabinet held a rally inside the state Capitol, along with Pennsylvania citizens who have been impacted by 'Obamacare' since it went into effect in 2010.

A repeal, state health officials say, could prove costly. More than 1.1 million Pennsylvanians currently receive health care through the Affordable Care Act and Gov. Wolf's Medicaid expansion. If the ACA is repealed, state and local health agencies could lose nearly $112 million from the Public Health Prevention Fund over the next five years, according to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. Also, the state anticipates losing 137,000 private sector jobs by 2019, and gross state product reduction by $76.5 billion between 2019 and 2023.

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, most health officials agree, but a plan to replace needs to be ready to go.

"This is something that literally affects people's lives and livelihoods, so it's not something we can rush," said Ted Dallas, Secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services. "All of it's being rushed."

That does not mean the ACA is without its faults, despite its positive impact on many citizens. At the Capitol rally, Anna Trace, a registered nurse from Chambersburg, spoke to how 'Obamacare' provided her daughter with medicine when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. However, she would like to see its premium costs go down considerably.

"It's not affordable for a lot of people," Trace said. "A lot of people I talk to say it's just too much."

Many are concerned Congress will repeal the Affordable Care Act before it finds a suitable replacement. Congressman Lou Barletta (R-Pennsylvania) could not promise that from not happening.

"Here's what I can guarantee," Barletta said. "I won't vote for it."

Barletta, along with Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania), say they won't vote to repeal the current plan until a new health care option is ready to go.

Many of their Republican colleagues want to repeal President Barack Obama's landmark law as soon as possible, claiming it failed to live up to many promises, such as users being able to keep their doctors, or lowered premiums.

"For the people it did help, so many more people were hurt, where they can no longer afford the premiums or out of pocket expense," Barletta said.

State health officials say it does not need a large overhaul, but instead tweaks to repair the current law instead of replacing it entirely.

"This is not something that can be done in Washington (D.C.) behind your desk," Secretary Dallas said. "This is something where you have to get out and talk to people and explain why you're taking health care away from them."

Rep. Perry responded, saying constituents are scheduling times to meet every day to share their stories of why repealing the Affordable Care Act would prove a mistake.

"We are in agreement with most of those folks," Perry said. "It's just which path do we take to get there? Understanding what we have now in unsustainable, unaffordable (sic), and we can't continue."