Gregorio Auila holds the hand of his son, Emmanuel, as he gets vaccinated… (Margaret Cheatham Williams…)
On the eve of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could overturn President Obama's signature healthcare law, federal officials announced Thursday that nearly $7 million made available by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is being given to a dozen community clinics in Los Angeles County.
Thirteen other clinics across California, including in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, will also receive $8 million.
Elected officials used the opportunity to express their support for the embattled act, the president's key domestic achievement. The high court is expected to announce its decision within a matter of days on the constitutionality of the healthcare reform act, which increases healthcare benefits to Americans, expands programs for the poor and will require citizens to have health insurance or face a tax penalty. Even if the law is overturned, one official noted, money that has already been awarded to the clinics will not be at risk.
"Los Angeles is grateful," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Democrat. "This administration of President Barack Obama has come forward and made things happen for this community and this nation in a way that we ought to be proud of."
"He accomplished more than what any other single president has done to advance healthcare for the American people," he said. "The Supreme Court, in my view, doesn't need to try to be the executive branch of government."
The comments came at a news conference in South Los Angeles, one of the region's most medically underserved areas. Officials said the money was part of $11 billion in Community Health Center Fund grants that Congress approved under the healthcare law and is distributing over five years to operate, expand and build health centers from coast to coast. So far, $3.5 billion has been spent.
The need is especially acute in South L.A., which ranks high in abnormal birth outcomes and infant mortality, and where 1 in 5 adults cannot afford to see a doctor. That's much worse than the L.A. County average, where 1 in 9 adults were unable to get their health problems checked, according to a county health survey.
"We, unfortunately, are surrounded by a community that leads the league in high blood pressure, heart disease … and leads the league in the lack of medical care," Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard C. Parks said.
The money will help create new clinics and expand existing ones, and provide more jobs for doctors, nurses, clinic support staff and construction workers, said Herb K. Schultz, regional director for the Department of Health and Human Services for the southwestern United States.
Doctors and other healthcare staff will be able to see 85,000 new L.A. County patients as a result of the grants, Schultz said.
"These clinics … do a phenomenal job at providing access to primary and preventive healthcare services to" patients in need, Schultz said.
Among the recipients awarded Thursday was the T.H.E. Clinic — which stands for "To Help Everyone." It won $483,333 to open a clinic at 2250 S. Western Ave. and expand use of a mobile van clinic at Dorsey and Crenshaw high schools. The funds could mean that 15,000 additional patients will be seen by T.H.E. Clinic over the next three years, said clinic Chief Executive Rise K. Phillips.
Two patients who spoke at the news conference thanked the clinic for providing critical prenatal care when they needed it.
Several weeks ago, federal officials disbursed $122 million in similar grants to construct and renovate clinics in California.
As for what could happen to the rest of the unspent money if the law is overturned, Schultz said only: "We're confident that the Supreme Court will uphold this law."