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.
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.
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.
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.
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