U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who has been under fire from conservatives over the federal health care law, refused on Monday to answer questions about what she knew about the laws limits.
Like President Barack Obama, Hagan said the Affordable Care Act would allow North Carolinians to keep their existing insurance plans if they liked them. The pledge proved false – and earned Obama PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year honors.
But the details about what Hagan knew about the law’s limits and when she learned it remains unclear. Asked about it again Monday at a press conference in Raleigh, after she made her re-election bid official at the State Board of Elections, Hagan avoided the question.
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Pressed on the question two more times as reporters followed her outside to the parking lot, Hagan did not answer. She offered this explanation without further details: “it wasn’t clear that insurance companies were selling substandard policies.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer, responded by saying Hagan’s comments “are simply not true and she should know better.” Company spokesman Lew Borman said the insurer notified customers that they could keep a grandfathered plan. Customers were also given an opportunity to return to a grandfathered plan, Borman said.
“The fact is that every step along the way, we have taken every available opportunity to make sure our customers understood the impacts of the ACA and grandfathering,” Borman said by email. “We have been very open with our customers about the cost and benefits of the ACA. It’s unfortunate that Senator Hagan has not done the same.”
The first-term lawmaker is sponsoring a bill to allow people to permanently keep their previous plans, though it is not expected to gain traction. The state’s insurance commissioner has said more than 473,000 residents would lose their plans because they don’t meet the minimum standards of the federal health care law. (At the moment, the cancellations are on hold for one year.)
The health care issue is so far dominating Hagan’s re-election campaign, as outside groups spend upwards of $8 million on TV ads attacking her on the topic.
At the press conference after filing her candidacy papers, Hagan lashed out at special interests spending money to defeat her, even though she didn’t acknowledge the outside interests also are boosting her own campaign.
“Our state is not for sale,” she said, as she answered questions for about 12 minutes. Debuting her new campaign slogan, she added: “I have always stood for North Carolina first and I always will.”
The Democrat also downplayed the role the federal health care law will play in the 2014 race. “From the stand point of this election, I know there is going to not be just one issue that we discuss,” she said.
Hagan also refused to comment on Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s alternative health care plan.
She also didn’t answer a question about the recent controversy plaguing the N.C. Democratic Party. Chairman Randy Voller recently fired the party’s executive director in part because he felt Robert Dempsey was too close to the Hagan campaign.
Asked whether she had confidence in Voller’s leadership, Hagan avoided a direct answer. “There are policies in place at the state Democratic party that is going to handle all the personnel issues and issues like that,” she said.
The state party is a key player in the larger Democratic effort to elect Hagan as a conduit for money and staff that will shuffle into North Carolina to help re-elect her.