"I am listening," Denham replied. "Under this important debate I’ve gone out to the hospitals, I’ve gone out and talked to the nurses. I’ve gone out and actually asked the questions on how do you fix our overcrowded emergency rooms. How do you get doctors to actually take Medi-Cal patients?
"There are a lot of challenges that not only have I listened, but I am fighting to make sure that we actually have a good response in this bill."
Denham wasn't the first to face upset constituents: Since the election of President Trump, California's representatives have faced lively crowds at town halls and district events, with many voters urging the delegation to take a hard stance against the new administration and policies.
At a town hall that Denham (R-Turlock) held in April in Denair -- which also drew a large, rowdy crowd -- he told them he was a no vote on the earlier draft of the GOP health care bill.
Last Thursday, he voted yes -- along with California's 14 other Republican members of Congress -- on the latest Republican health legislation.
A few people at the event challenged him, accusing him of lying.
"During the town hall, you specifically said you were not going to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act," said Naramsen Goriel of Modesto. "Why did you lie to us?"
"Let’s be honest about what I said and be honest about the entire situation," Denham replied. "Actually, what I said was, I cannot support a bill that does not address pre-existing conditions. (Denham was interrupted by people shouting: "This one doesn’t.")
“Under the current plan, a state would have to opt out," he continued. "They’d have to apply to the federal government to do that and they’d have to actually make sure they have a risk pool available.”
Denham co-sponsored a late amendment to the GOP bill that would provide $8 billion over the next five years to help pay for the insurance costs of Americans with pre-existing conditions. The AHCA allows states to apply for waivers to let insurers charge those sick consumers more.
One of his constituents at the Riverbank meeting challenged him on the high-risk pools.
"Do you have experience actually dealing with buying on a high-risk pool?" asked Brooke Myung of Riverbank, who said she worked in insurance billing. She noted that when she and her husband went to get him health insurance after he lost it at work, "it would have cost us our entire income, $2,000 every month. Except, there was a waiting period before we were allowed to buy. And then it was six months before it would cover his medication that keeps him alive."
She added: "So how are we supposed to be assured that people in other states -- because, yes, California won't apply for waivers -- but people in other states need to be protected from that, too. That's unacceptable."
Myung received applause from other attendees. "No part of this is OK," she said. "No part of it helps to defend Americans, Californians specifically."
Denham told her she had an open invitation to meet with him: "I would love to have you come in and walk me through the process that you've gone through. ... Help me to understand."
After the vote but ahead of the Riverbank event, Denham said that while "coverage in the Valley has expanded -- and that’s a good thing -- the access issues that existed before the ACA have only gotten worse with the expanded coverage."
He added that California ranked near the bottom for Medicaid reimbursement rates, "creating a disincentive for physicians to accept more patients covered through Medi-Cal."
"This coupled with the fact that we have been unable to recruit new physicians to our district has created a situation where coverage does not necessarily equal care, and families must resort to overflowing emergency rooms to be seen," he has previously said.
“The American Health Care Act, as amended, is a good first step toward putting control over personal health care choices back into the hands of individuals -- not the federal government -- while ensuring important protections remain in place for those with pre-existing conditions and in high-risk pools," Denham said.
Denham's Stanislaus County seat has been an early target for Democrats, with Hillary Clinton outpacing Donald Trump in the 10th district by 3 points. Federal elections records shows five Democrats have filed to run against Denham, who was re-elected for a third time in November with 52 percent of the vote.