The Drake's Take

Don’t reward Wyoming GOP for shutting off Obamacare information

— August 13, 2013

Have you heard the latest about Obamacare? Republicans say it will make you obese, cause your heart to cease and won’t let you rest in peace. It’ll make you lose your hair, cause people to stare and leave you in despair. It will clog your veins, rot your brain and drive you insane.

Kerry Drake

Kerry Drake

And that’s just on the first day. Then things get really bad.

I’m going to tell you something that Republican federal and state lawmakers don’t want revealed: the truth about Obamacare. Because if you knew what it will really do, you wouldn’t spend the next year worrying that you’ll lose your health care, or that the government will decide if you live or die, or any of the dozens of other scare tactics they foolishly hope will persuade you to put the GOP in power again.

Republicans have made a shameful, concerted effort to keep Americans uninformed about health care reform, even though knowing how to take advantage of its benefits could finally help millions of people who have either lost their health insurance coverage or can’t afford it to receive the care they need.

Here is just a partial list of some of the key provisions:

— Young adults can stay on a parent’s insurance plan until age 26, regardless of whether they live at home, attend school or are married. Children under 19 with pre-existing conditions cannot now be denied coverage by most insurers.

— Beginning in 2014, insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage to anyone with pre-existing conditions. And they cannot charge you more because of your gender or more than they charge a healthy person your age, so you can buy health insurance even if you are seriously ill.

— A minimum level of coverage known as essential benefits must be part of plans, effective Jan. 1, 2014. These include emergency services, hospitalizations, laboratory services, maternity care, mental health and substance abuse treatment, outpatient or ambulatory care, pediatric care, prescription drugs, preventive care, rehabilitative services and vision and dental care for children.

Is it the perfect health care system for the nation? No, that would be single-payer. This one keeps the insurance companies in business. But until we’re ready to adopt a universal health care system that has vastly improved the lives of citizens in every other country that uses one, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the best deal we’re going to get.

Unfortunately, Republican leaders in Wyoming have not only delayed changes under Obamacare, they’re doing their best to squelch any efforts to tell people about what the law does.

The GOP-controlled legislature decided to not create a state health insurance exchange — a key component of the bill — by the deadline, so the feds will administer the program while lawmakers plot their next action. This is obviously an extraordinary move. Can you remember any time the state actually told the federal government, “No, why don’t you just come to Wyoming and run the program yourself, because you’re so much better at it?”

Judging by the inaction of the Select Committee on Health Benefits Exchanges when it met in Casper last month, Republican legislators are still pinning their hopes on Obamacare being repealed, which simply isn’t going to happen, even if House Republicans vote 40 more times to kill it, or if John Boehner holds his breath until he turns blue.

The state plans to apply for a $1.8 million federal grant that includes a half-million dollars to educate people about the exchange, which will allow people to competitively shop online for health insurance beginning Oct. 1. But despite the fact that Wyoming has an estimated 83,000 people without health insurance who could potentially benefit from the program, the committee decided the state shouldn’t spend any of the educational money until at least January.

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) and Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell)

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) and Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell). (Click to view)

Why? Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper), who has irrationally led the legislature’s fight against Obamacare, said, “I worry about the state taking ownership of a federal disaster, misleading people, and they drop coverage thinking the ACA is coming. And then the federal thing doesn’t work,” according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

Of course, the best way to make sure that the health exchange fails in the state is to see that nobody who could benefit knows about it and signs up.

Stephanie McGee, the state’s deputy insurance commissioner, said her department wants to keep people informed about the law, but she added, “We don’t want to push somebody some place … when it could fall apart,” according to the Casper Star-Tribune. So don’t look for the Wyoming Department of Insurance to educate many people about the health exchange.

Fortunately, not all Republican legislators agree with Scott. Representative Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell) is certainly no fan of Obamacare, but she told the committee that delaying outreach efforts is wrong.

“I think we are doing our uninsured population a disservice by not giving them an opportunity to sign up for insurance that is available to them,” she said, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. That’s the most common-sense statement I’ve heard any state legislator make about Obamacare since it passed.

The Wyoming Department of Health’s primary involvement with the new law, spokeswoman Kim Deti said, is centered on Medicaid. Earlier this year, the legislature cold-heartedly rejected the expansion of Medicaid, which would have helped 17,000 low-income adults in the state if the GOP hadn’t been intent on sinking Obamacare at every turn.

“One thing we are doing is preparing for our new Medicaid eligibility system, which also goes live on Oct. 1,” Deti explained. “It is supposed to ‘talk’ with the exchange. We will be providing some education on the new Medicaid system, but are not currently planning any robust effort to inform people about the federal exchange, although I do expect to do some things such as putting a link to healthcare.gov on our website.”

The legislature’s effort to keep people in the dark about Obamacare’s benefits is right out of the National Republican Party’s playbook. When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius tried in June to partner with the National Football League so its stars could promote the ACA’s benefits, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately complained to NFL officials about the league damaging its reputation by lending its name to such a divisive and unpopular cause.

The NFL, not surprisingly, caved under the pressure and dropped the whole idea.

Screen shot 2013-08-12 at 4.35.36 PM

The healthcare.gov website.

There are ways Wyoming residents can access information about the health care exchanges and the rest of the ACA. Mike Fierberg of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Region 8, which is headquartered in Denver, said its travel budget is “very constrained,” so officials won’t be coming to Wyoming to make any pitches.

“But you will start seeing a lot of national advertising, which is run out of our Baltimore office, about the health exchanges,” Fieberg said. “And we have www.healthcare.gov, where you can get information and also chat live online with someone from our call center.”

If you want to know even more about how the federal health exchange will work, visit obamacarefacts.com. It will dispel the myths about the program, and provide what you need to know to shop online for a competitive insurance rate, just like you would if you were buying an airline ticket or a car.

Conservative Republicans came up with the idea for a federal health insurance mandate, and former Gov. Mitt Romney successfully implemented it in Massachusetts before the GOP disowned the entire effort when President Barack Obama took up the cause. They should listen to Tom Scully, who ran the Medicare and Medicaid programs under George W. Bush.

“Republicans are dopes for arguing this thing’s going to blow up,” Scully told the National Journal in April. You can debate the cost and merits of the approach, he said, but “it’s not going to melt down.”

Republicans have virtually assured that prediction will come true, because of their failure to come up with any Obamacare alternatives of their own. Let them try telling Americans we must go back to allowing insurance companies to decline pre-existing conditions and return to lifetime caps on coverage, and see the blowback. It won’t be pretty.

Wyoming Republican leaders have shown no signs of backing down, save for a few mavericks like Harvey, and will probably keep fighting insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion until the bitter end. But voters shouldn’t let them get away with intentionally doing something to keep people desperate for health care from obtaining insurance because a Democratic president managed to pass a bill that will work. In addition to being stupid, it’s downright cruel.

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact Guy Padgett at guy@wyofile.com or Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Published on August 13, 2013

  • A Real American

    So Far Obama Car has collected taxes for 3 years and has provided what it will all ways provide more government. I am glad the legislators in Wyoming are not supporting it.

  • Judy

    Well, yes I like certain aspects of the ACA (obamacare) but am still opposed. Congress does not have to comply, insurance companies are being given a pass etc. HHS has sites in Wyoming to navigate this program; usually senior centers and hospitals, so don’t squeak that Wyoming cannot get information. I actually abhor our current legislative group but on this one, they are right. ACA is, was, an will be an abysmal failure. “We have to pass this bill to see what’s in it” typical Nancy Pelosi and other congress members who cannot be bothered to check out details. Well, they are coming back to bite us.

  • gwarnock

    I hope Mr. Drake can find time to report on American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC,

    I found this tidbit on a “liberal” site,
    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/08/14/health-care-expert-turned-whistleblower-wendell-potter-on-alecs-attempts-to-thwart-obamacare/

    Which led to this shocking takeover of our lawmakers,
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Wyoming_ALEC_Politicians

    To believe our state lawmakers work for us is ludicrous, they work for ALEC!!
    ALL with an (R) too!

  • Todd Pittman

    Every AMERICAN should read this, not just every citizen of Wyoming. Mr. Drake tells the story from the perspective of someone who has really been paying attention (which is more than I suspect is true of most of us). We citizens of the internet age are overwhelmed with information – it’s easy to lose track of what things are really about, what with all the verbal volleyball. This article lays out the basics of the plan and the history of the political fight over Obamacare. Forty votes to repeal the plan. Forty times, Republicans have taken what precious little time there is between vacations and rallied together to beat their heads against a wall. They do this not because they believe they can actually force the repeal, but because their goal is obstruction, plain and simple. They probably think they are winning, when actually they are literally dying out – even Republican youth don’t agree with these “old and obsolete” Republicans. These guys are so out of touch they don’t even see it coming. Or maybe they do, which accounts for the denial.

  • gwarnock

    On day one, before President Obama was inaugurated, a group of Republicans vowed to make his a single term,
    Robert Draper: ‘Do Not Ask What Good We Do’,
    http://www.examiner.com/article/newt-gingrich-and-the-republican-party-exposed
    Why they want to destroy the entire nation to make this happen is beyond me, it does expose them for the fools they really are. To date, in the House of Representatives, 40 votes have been brought to the floor to repeal “Obamacare”, since 2011, the House of Representatives has spent approximately $53.8 million attempting to repeal health care reform. Congressional Budget Office estimated last year that repeal would add $109 billion to deficits over the next decade, according to TalkingPointsMemo.com.
    How many Wyomingites will go to the emergency room for their healthcare due to no insurance? Another “value tax” for Wyoming. 2010 Republicans won a lot of seats on a promise of jobs, which are where?
    Mr. Enzi, our “Obstructionist Extraordinaire” needs to be the first to go, along with our state Obstructionists this coming year!
    Thank You Mr. Drake!

  • Bryon

    Readers, please use this information to contact your state legislators. I just sent this and comments to Sen. Nicholas and Rep. Moniz. Please, let’s make them answer for this.

  • Tom Bell

    Kerry Drake is a damned good “veteran Wyoming journalist.” He gets his facts straight and then tells it like it is. I am especially mindful of his comments on the single-payer system and on Sen. Charlie Scott and Rep. Elaine Harvey. It was because of that black guy in the White House that the Republicans couldn’t choke down their frustrations and anger, and the fact that he had handily beaten Mitt Romney who put Romneycare into effect in Massachusetts. Talk about hypocrisy!

  • DeweyV

    Welcome to Wyoming, where a big blunt instrument named ” Denial ” is an oft brandished tool used in making public policy… by not doing anything with it at all.

  • Brodie Farquhar

    At the national level, Republicans are gearing up to try and convince the uninsured that it is their patriotic duty to reject Obamacare. Some conservative thunk-tanks are actually publicizing the opportunity to download and print an Obamacare card (doesn’t exist in the reality-based world), so protesters can burn the card! (Shades of draft card burning in the ’60s.)
    I’m glad to learn that Rep. Harvey is behaving like an adult, but I’m disappointed that Sen. Scott is not. Indeed, his behavior is like a petulant five-year-old threatening to take his ball and go home unless he gets his way. That isn’t the Sen. Scott I’ve long known and admired.
    The key to GOP opposition to Obamacare is that they’re terrified that it will work, giving the lie to GOP mythology that regulating markets is always bad and never good. The reality is that Obamacare regulates the health insurance market, to the benefit of the public and the consternation of health insurance CEOs and their minions in the Republican Party.

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