About 250 people, ranging from Republican stalwarts to supporters of the Affordable Care Act, made the trip to the Hall County Government Center on Monday to watch a congressional field hearing on the effects of Obamacare in rural areas. Congressmen (and coincidentally Senate candidates) Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston joined three members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Georgia Reps. Doug Collins and Rob Woodall and North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows.
They heard from four witnesses — Raymer Sale, the owner of an employee benefits company that sells insurance to small businesses, Dr. Jeff Reinhardt, a clinic owner, small business owner Michael Boyette, and self-employed Emma Collins.
As the hearing got underway, the congressmen and witnesses discussed the familiar litany of issues with the Affordable Care Act, including the false promise that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” and “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” Mr. Sale noted that of the approximately 140 companies he works with, only four were able to keep grandfathered plans. Mrs. Collins stated that a policy covering her healthy husband and daughter they previously purchased for $265 per month is no longer available, and the replacement ACA-compliant plan would cost almost $900 per month, with a $6,000 deductible per person.
But there were also mentions of new benefits under Obamacare. One of Dr. Reinhart’s employees is battling cancer, and was getting close to the lifetime limit of her old policy. Under Obamacare, she will remain covered. Mrs. Collins, who was previously uninsurable due to a pre-existing condition, will now be able to purchase insurance, although she has not yet shopped for a policy due to concerns over security problems with the healthcare.gov website.
During the second half of the two hour long hearing, the congressmen questioned the witnesses, digging a little deeper into their issues. The congressmen were interested in hearing if there were any possible solutions to the problems caused by the healthcare act.
One of the biggest concerns was the limited number of insurance options available to choose from. Mr. Boyette and Mrs. Collins were happy with the plans they had previously, and didn’t consider them inferior. Congressman Woodall noted that people should have the right–and responsibility–to choose the amount of healthcare coverage they thought was necessary. Another concern was the huge number of regulations that came along with the healthcare act. These regulations, which could change at any time, make it more difficult for employers to comply with the law, and in the case of Mr. Sale’s company, could expose him to legal liability. Regulations and compliance costs, according to Dr. Reinhart, are causing doctors to limit or leave their practices, which will limit available care down the road.
Overall, yesterday’s hearing was not the “partisan tactic … intended only to trash the Affordable Care Act,” as Americans United for Change called it in a press release before the hearing. (And, by the way, their threatened protest did not happen.) The committee members were not only interested in hearing the problems the healthcare law were causing, but were also interested in learning about ways to improve it.
At the hearing, Congressman Woodall noted that if healthcare insurance reform had been divided into smaller bills instead of a 2,600 page omnibus, many of the things people like in the PPACA might have become law without bringing in the provisions that are not popular.
Yesterday’s hearing was one of several being conducted regarding the healthcare law and its effects on Americans. Now the committee and Congress must decide what to do with the information they have gotten. Some Democrats, facing re-election in 2014, are starting to express doubts about Obamacare. It’s too bad that they decided not to attend the hearing. They would have learned why the Affordable Care Act is so unpopular with the people it’s supposed to benefit. And that might have led to working together with Republicans to fashion a better law.