Legislative hearings on the Affordable Care Act got underway Tuesday in Raleigh with a heavy focus on the federal law’s economic consequences for North Carolina and the nation.
The lead speaker, Duke University health policy scholar Chris Conover, who has previously denounced President Barack Obama as a fascist, laid out his case against the health care law as a national disaster and called for the law’s repeal. The academician spoke for more than an hour and said the law’s provisions were concocted by government bureaucrats in Washington.
Conover – who challenged lawmakers to decide whether the law should be called the Affordable Care Act or the Abominable Care Act – predicted that it would wipe out about 90,000 jobs from the state’s economy and would reduce 300,000 full-time jobs into part-time positions.
“This is the equivalent of permanently shuttering three Duke Universities,” Conover said, warning of an “exceedingly bleak fiscal future” under the law.
The Joint Study Committee on the Affordable Care Act and Implementation Issues was formed this year by the state’s Republican leaders: House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. Tillis is running for a U.S. Senate seat against Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and is making the controversial law the centerpiece of his attacks against Hagan, who voted for its passage in Congress four years ago.
Democratic members of the committee objected Tuesday to what they called one-sided political theater and vowed to include the law’s supporters as presenters in future hearings. The committee meets again next month in Greensboro and plans several more hearings before submitting a report to the legislature in January with health care policy recommendations.
“The tone of this was completely biased,” Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a Democrat from Durham, said during a break. “We just can’t have one perspective on such an important piece of legislation.”
Predicting a litany of horror stories about the Affordable Care Act at Tuesday’s committee hearing, the law’s supporters organized an event before the hearings, featuring doctors who support the law and previously uninsured residents who expressed gratitude for subsidized health coverage.
Still, Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman of Archdale said Conover made a convincing case that the law would destroy jobs, inflate the deficit and bloat health care costs. Sen. Ronald Rabin, a Republican from Spring Lake, warned his colleagues that even if Conover is only half right, his analysis portends “financial Armageddon.”
Committee co-chair Rep. Jim Fulghum, a Raleigh Republican and retired doctor, said he’s open to including witnesses with different perspectives, but said of Conover: “He has an opinion, and I think his opinion is valuable.”
200,000 in N.C. enrolled
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, was designed to address the growing crisis of the uninsured by requiring most Americans to buy health insurance this year or face financial penalties. The law also provides federal subsidies, on a sliding scale, to people within certain income limits.
The law makes it illegal for insurance companies to refuse to sell coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or to charge older customers more than three times as much as younger customers.
Most people aren’t directly affected because they get health insurance through their employers or through Medicare or Medicaid. But more than 1 million people in North Carolina are eligible for individual insurance. As of March 1, about 200,000 had signed up for policies through the federal exchange.
Committee members offered no specifics as to what their report might entail, but issues such as Medicaid and enrollment are likely to be part of the mix.
State lawmakers don’t have the authority to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they can choose to enact policies to promote the law. North Carolina officials opted not to cooperate with the law, and as a result, the state did not expand Medicaid to about 320,000 poor people and is not taking any measures to encourage enrollment.
BCBS rates increased
Conover said that the law’s mandatory coverage for preventive care and other services is driving up costs for private insurance.
In North Carolina, only two insurers offer subsidized insurance, and only one, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, operates in all 100 counties. While some customers say their health care costs decreased after subsidies are factored in, Blue Cross has said its rates have generally increased under the Affordable Care Act because the policies cover more services and also because they are designed to absorb the costs of new customers with pre-existing conditions and others who previously could not buy coverage.
An executive from Blue Cross told the committee that the company is seeing an increase in claims for expensive imaging, costly drugs and heart conditions.
“We’re stuck with costs that will dramatically reduce access to care,” Conover said.