South LA health providers, county supervisor celebrate ACA's upholding

June 28, 2012, 12:51 p.m.

Jim Mangia, president and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center, said he started to cry when he heard the news of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Affordable Care Act on Thursday morning. (José Martinez/OnCentral)

When St. John's Well Child and Family Center president and CEO Jim Mangia heard the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on Thursday morning, he started to cry.

"I was ecstatic, I was thrilled, I was surprised," he said. "I really didn't think the Supreme Court was going to uphold the individual mandate. But I'm extremely happy that they did. And what this really says is that the law of the land is that every American has a fundamental right to health care."

The Supreme Court upheld the vast majority of the legislation in a 5-4 vote, including the individual mandate, prompting celebration among southside health care providers and advocates.

"I just – I just didn't believe it was going to happen," he said. "I think it's quite amazing when what's reaffirmed is something that you've believed your whole life, which is that health care should be for all, not just for a privileged few. And that's what this law says."

Mangia spoke to OnCentral before a press conference at his clinic that was being held in response to the court's ruling on the ACA on Thursday morning. He called it "a tremendous plus for St. John's," as the ACA allocates $12 billion to the expansion of community health clinics. St. John's has already gotten more than $10 million of that money, and with this ruling, more is on the way.

"That will allow us to serve more patients with health insurance, which will then allow us to serve more patients who remain uninsured," he said. "There's still going to be about 800,000 to 1 million people in L.A. County who will not have health insurance, so we'll be able to continue to support them because of this expansion."

During the press conference, Mangia got some laughs when he said, "Today we celebrate – we were going to have champagne for you all but our doctors said no." He ended his opening remarks with "Obamacare for all!" to heavy applause.

L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was also present, calling it "an occasion for celebration."

"The president is vindicated; the Supreme Court has redeemed itself," he said after the press conference ended. "I believe the people of America have great reason to celebrate, and there's a lot of hope in the county of Los Angeles, where there's the largest number of uninsured in the nation. So it's a good day."

Ridley-Thomas said as a result of the ACA's being upheld, 80 percent of the county's 2.2 million uninsured will be covered. When he heard the news, the supervisor said, he had been out walking – and the next thing he knew, he was "kind of trotting."

"I had gotten excited for the people who are going to be blessed by this, and there was a lot on the line here. A lot on the line," he said. "Not having health insurance is a matter of life and death for a number of people. A slow death, for a lot of people. So I can't imagine why there would be a push to deny such an opportunity."

Nina Vaccaro, the executive director of the Southside Coalition of Community Health Clinics who earlier told OnCentral the news of the ruling caused her to drop to her knees, said she hopes "this puts a little bit of fire into everyone's heart."

"We have so many people living in South Los Angeles without health insurance that have nowhere to go but community health clinics," she said. "Community health clinics are bursting at the seams. And while their policy is not to turn away care, it still has an impact on people's abilities to get all of the services they need."

That's what accounts for the higher rates of health disparities on the southside, she explained – and for the high number of folks who end up getting their primary care in the emergency room or at urgent care. Vaccaro added that this legislation gives people access to preventive care.

"I just felt such a tremendous sense of relief that all of the heart and soul and blood, sweat and tears that we put into our work over the last two years was validated, and that it wasn't for nothing," said Vaccaro. "It's going to impact so many people's lives and I did – I dropped to my knees and just took a huge sigh of relief that everything we've been fighting for will continue."

KPCC has more on what the upholding of the ACA means for California.

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