GOP Delegation Questions Obamacare, Pryor Spox Says Letter Leaves Details Out

by The City Wire Staff ( 4 views 

A letter from the five Republican members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation to federal Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been described by the office of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor as being “a combination of untruths and gross mischaracterizations.”

On Monday, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle; Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro; Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock; and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, noted in a letter to Sebelius their concerns with the “impact of Obamacare” as it is being rolled out in Arkansas.

“We are now seeing the detrimental impact of the flawed law on health-insurance rates across Arkansas,” noted the letter. “While the average Arkansas family has seen their income fall 9% over the past decade, the government regulations and mandates of Obamacare will require these same families to pay between 100% and 600% more for comparable insurance coverage, or risk losing their family doctor if they choose a plan that costs less.”

The letter pulls no punches, saying that premium increases will “decimate family budgets” and “force families to go without coverage.” The letter said the apparent “failure of the reforms promised” is unsurprising.

“While regrettable, the disastrous rollout of the Obamacare exchanges is somewhat fitting for the hastily passed law,” noted the letter.

The Republican-controlled Arkansas General Assembly earlier this year approved a “private option” plan to incorporate Obamacare into a system managed the state. The legislation expands Medicaid benefits to more than 200,000 people below the federal poverty level, currently set at 139%, by subsidizing the cost of private health insurance. Four companies – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas, Celtic/Novasys (Ambetter), QualChoice of Arkansas, and national Blue Cross Blue Shield – are offering bronze, silver and gold plans for health insurance for citizens who may qualify for tax credits or subsidies based on income. The law created the AR Health Connector program.

The letter also asks Sebelius to provide by Nov. 1 the following three pieces of information:

• HHS’s knowledge of the impact this law would have on the number of state insurance providers;
• State stakeholders’ knowledge of the exchanges’ status leading up to their October 1, 2013, launch date; and,
• The number of confirmed enrollments in Arkansas as of Oct. 25.

“Their letter is a combination of untruths and gross mischaracterizations,” noted a response from Michael Teague, a spokesman for Pryor, a Democrat.

As to the claim that only two providers are providing around four plans, Teague provided the following response.

• “There are four carriers offering coverage in Arkansas and according to the AR Health Connector there are ‘71 qualified health insurance plans that will be sold on the individual market in the new Health Insurance Marketplace.’ Arkansas State Representative John Burris called the number of carriers coming in to the market a great start.’”

• “According to information from the AR Health Connector most regions of the state will be served by three or four health carriers. However, Arkansans living in the two regions served by two carriers will still have ten health plans to choose from.”

On the claim in the letter that Obamacare will bust the budget for Arkansas families, the Pryor office provides the following responses:

• “This discussion of plans sold by the AR Health Connector only applies to individuals that buy coverage on their own in 2014. A large majority of Arkansans are covered by employer-sponsored plans or get their coverage from another source.”

• “The letter makes no mention of subsidies available to low-income Arkansans or the bipartisan Arkansas Private Option Medicaid expansion that will deliver affordable private sector coverage to 250,000 Arkansans. Because of this help and other provisions in the ACA the RAND Corporation found the ACA would increase the number of Arkansans with coverage by 401,000 people when fully implemented.”

Teague noted in his response that premiums in the private option plans have been between 10% and 25% lower than originally forecast.

Link here for a PDF of the letter to Sebelius.

Last week, Pryor said he supported an extension of the individual enrollment sign-up period for the new federal health care law.

Pryor joined fellow Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) in requesting that the Obama administration stall and clarify aspects related to individuals attempting to enroll in the new health insurance exchanges.