GOP senators launch broadside against Obamacare

Jon Ward Contributor
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The fight to shape perceptions of President Obama’s health care overhaul is still in the early stages, but on Wednesday two Republican senators will fire a salvo when they release a 32-page report arguing that the legislation is only exacerbating skyrocketing prices and will cause nearly 100 million Americans to lose their employer-based insurance.

“The passage of the new law is a lost historic opportunity,” says the report, authored by staff for Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.

The report, titled “Bad Medicine,” comes as the Obama administration is accelerating a public relations push to promote benefits in the law that are taking effect now or soon, in advance of this fall’s midterm elections. There have been improvements in public opinions about the law, though large numbers still oppose it.

One of the most startling assertions in the Coburn/Barrasso report – which was obtained ahead of its release by The Daily Caller – is that nearly 100 million Americans will lose their current form of health insurance and will be required to obtain more expensive plans. One of the president’s most constant refrains in selling his health bill was that if Americans liked what they had, they could keep it.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released a regulation that limits the changes businesses can make to health plans and still be considered ‘grandfathered’ plans – exempt from many of the burdensome new mandates in the law,” the report says. “With this new rule, it looks like almost 90 million Americans could lose their current health plan and instead be stuck with more costly, government-­mandated health insurance.”

There are roughly 176 million Americans who currently have health insurance through their employer, the report says.

The White House did not directly contest these numbers, but said that the majority of the 133 million people receiving insurance through large employers will retain what they have because the benefits are similar to what will be required in the future, while those at smaller companies would simply be moving from less protective plans to insurance policies with more protection, such as a ban on lifetime caps.

Another central plank of the Coburn/Barrasso report is that the Obama health law will drive up health care costs due to a number of factors. Taxes and fees on pharmaceutical drugs, medical devices and providers will be passed on to consumers, the report says. The White House also contests that assertion.

The report also argues that insurance premiums will shoot up because large numbers of young and healthy Americans will avoid signing up for government-mandated insurance unless and until they need it, and will drop it again when they don’t. And the Internal Revenue Service, the report argues, can’t enforce the law requiring people to buy insurance because the new law deprives it of the powers it needs to do so.

“Relatively low-­cost penalties and anemic enforcement will create an incentive for millions of Americans to game the system and only buy health insurance when they are sick,” the report says. “Penalties for noncompliance will average about $1,000 apiece in 2016 while the cost of the insurance could be three or four times higher. This gaming of the system will skew the risk pool and increase premiums for other Americans with health insurance.”

Of course, the discussion of a hamstrung IRS contradicts the specter of an army of heavily armed agents swarming into American homes, which was a common bogeyman among many on the right around the time of the bill’s passage.

The Obama administration says that a set open enrollment period for the new health law each year will keep the young and healthy from arbitrarily acquiring or dropping coverage.

The Coburn/Barrasso report also says that 16 million Americans will be moved on Medicaid, putting them in a system that is already going broke and in which many recipients of aid are already having trouble finding physicians to treat them because of the lower reimbursement rates inherent in Medicaid.

Under the new law, all states are required to enroll everyone under 133 percent of poverty ($14,403 per person, or $29,326 per a family of four) in Medicaid. But the report states that “40 percent of physicians do not accept Medicaid patients.”

States are also staggering under the load of expanded Medicaid populations. States typically pay about 43 percent of Medicaid costs, though the federal government will defray the cost for most of the recipients that are added by the requirement in the new law.

Finally, the report says that small businesses will face reporting requirements that cost them an average of $6,000 a year, due to a new portion of the law that requires companies to send the IRS a 1099 form “for every business-to-business transaction of $600 or more for both property and services.”

A White House official said the administration was focused on the benefits that are beginning to take effect from the bill.

“This week, more than 300,000 seniors will begin receiving $250 rebate checks to bring down the cost of their prescription drugs, but some Republicans are still spreading misinformation and arguing for a return to the status quo,” the White House official said, requesting that they not be identified.

“Under the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans will gain affordable coverage, small businesses are receiving tax credits to make it easier to provide coverage and we’ve implemented a real patient’s bill of rights. We’re focused on delivering the benefits of reform to the American people.”

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