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Thursday, September 5, 2013

 9:19 AM 

Kind: Focus on implementation of Obamacare, not futile repeal attempts

EAU CLAIRE -- A public information session about the Affordable Care Act hosted by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind had entered its second hour before the “O” word was even uttered, perhaps symbolic of a shift in the debate over Obamacare that Kind says has impacted even his Republican colleagues.

Compared with the combative audiences that members of Congress faced in 2009 and 2010 when the law was in its formative stages, the roughly 200 Chippewa Valley residents who came to listen to Kind and a panel of experts talk about the health law this afternoon were subdued. Even during a question-and-answer session, their queries – some of which came from local GOP activists -- were about the technical aspects of the law, not the politics behind it.

“The Supreme Court has weighed in,” Kind, D-La Crosse, told WisPolitics.com afterward when asked about the shift in attitude.

“They’ve had 40 votes attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Kind said of his House GOP colleagues, who he said are split on how to confront Obamacare now that one of its major components -- health insurance exchanges for the uninsured -- are set to open Oct. 1. Despite statements by some of their members, Republican congressional leaders are largely opposed to holding the federal budget or the debt ceiling hostage in an attempt to defund Obamacare, Kind said.

Kind recounted an exchange he had with an attendee at a previous public session. The man raised a series of pointed questions about the law, and as Kind began to answer them, it became clear that the questioner was in agreement with many of the principles behind Obamacare. Finally, Kind asked him why he opposed the law.

“It’s the Obama of Obamacare I don’t like,” Kind said the man replied.

But beyond politically motivated dislike of President Barack Obama, Kind said plenty of misconceptions remain about the law. One of them came up during the forum when an audience member suddenly shouted out a question: “Will you get Obamacare now?” When Kind answered “yes” – members of Congress will buy insurance through the health insurance exchanges -- the man seemed satisfied. “That’ll bring it down,” he said, presumably referring to the cost of premiums.

“I know there’s a lot of confusion,” Kind told the audience at the beginning of the forum. “There’s a lot of skepticism, but I think the health care system was in desperate need of reform.”

The forum, held at Chippewa Valley Technical College, was hosted by the Alliance for Strong Communities, an umbrella organization of Eau Claire-area units of government, business and community groups, and labor unions.

Panelists included representatives of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Small Business Administration, and the IRS. They made presentations and fielded questions about the law’s implementation, the exchanges, tax incentives for the uninsured -- and their employers -- to buy into them, and penalties for employers that don’t offer adequate insurance.

Because the health insurance exchanges won’t open until next month, Kind cautioned audience members to withhold judgment about the law’s impact on insurance premiums. The state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance says that – depending on age and geography – insurance premiums in the state could rise from 10 percent to 125 percent next year. Kind noted that the estimates don’t factor in reduced out-of-pocket costs or tax credits that many residents will be eligible for.

“At least wait until Oct. 1 so we can do a real apples-to-apples comparison,” he said.

Ultimately, Kind said, Obamacare will require oversight and improvement, not repeal.

“This isn’t something that came down from Mount Sinai on tablets of stone,” he said. “But now it’s the law.”

-- By Tom Giffey
For WisPolitics.com


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