Local lawmakers say health care reform measure isn't right solution

Friday, June 29, 2012

Conservative lawmakers in Southeast Missouri decried Thursday's 5-4 Supreme Court ruling upholding most of the key provisions of President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act, suggesting that action is needed to address rising health care costs, but the current law isn't the right solution.

The ruling upheld, among other parts of the act, the controversial individual mandate that requires people to have health insurance or face penalties. The act, nicknamed Obamacare, is an effort at reforming the nation's health care problems through strategies such as creating affordable insurance options, expanding state Medicaid coverage, ensuring coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions and eliminating yearly and lifetime coverage limits.

But lawmakers who oppose Obamacare say the approach is overly regulated, too costly and doesn't address the central problem of exorbitant costs patients are charged by providers.

State Rep. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, responded to the ruling by news release, calling the law "liberalism gone too far."

"Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to increasing the number of people covered by insurance, we need to take the lead as states and come up with innovative, small-government solutions that will drive down the price of health care and enable more people to obtain health insurance without individual mandates, onerous taxes, or excessive regulations," Wallingford said in a statement released soon after the ruling.

When asked what specific solutions he'd like to see to tackle the problem, Wallingford said increasing competition among insurers would be a place to start. Unlike auto or life insurance providers, he said, health care insurers have to jump through so many hoops to be able to provide coverage that states such as Missouri are left with just two or three big players.

"If you opened the doors to competition, you would probably see that you would lower prices," Wallingford said.

He'd also like to see individuals have more freedom to choose what their plans covered, such as individuals beyond their childbearing years being able to opt out of in vitro fertilization benefits, instead of a blanket of benefits being applied to all insured members.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Cape Girardeau Republican, is in favor of repealing the act and also said opening up the market would be a better plan.

"We will need post-repeal legislation to create portability so Missourians can buy insurance across state lines if it is cheaper in other places," Emerson said by email Thursday. "Small businesses, all businesses, really, should be able to pool together to make the policies they purchase more affordable for them and their employees. We can bring more competition to the prescription drug market by opening markets and we should increase the use of low-cost generics. These few ideas can save billions for taxpayers and patients. There are many more."

The potential cost of the act to taxpayers in general is another sticking point for those who oppose it.

"I am disheartened by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today upholding ObamaCare. It is my understanding that this could potentially cost Missourians $600-800 million more in Medicaid funding that the state simply cannot afford, not to mention the added tax burden on middle-class families and Missouri businesses," said state Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, by email Thursday.

'Headed toward a cliff'

Wallingford said he thought the act could put the economy in a tailspin, similar to Greece, Spain, France, England and Canada, whose financial situations show that "socialized medicine doesn't work."

"I think we are headed toward a cliff, quite frankly," Wallingford said.

On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., voted in favor of the act and comments from her office Thursday suggest she will stand behind the ruling going forward.

"There's only ever been one goal for Claire -- affordable, accessible health care for Missouri," said John LaBombard, spokesman for McCaskill.

Missouri was the first state in the nation to express opposition to the act at the polls. In August 2010, a proposition barring the government from requiring people to have health insurance was supported by 71 percent of Missourians, though the outcome was considered mostly symbolic because federal laws generally trump state laws.

Voters will get another chance to send a message about the act when a measure concerning the creation of a health care exchange appears ballot in November. One provision of the health care reform act requires states to either create a marketplace people can use to compare and buy health care coverage or allow the federal government to create one for them. The ballot measure would allow a state-created exchange only if authorized by state law or vote of the people, barring the governor or officials from taking action on their own.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon began laying the groundwork for an insurance exchange but suspended action due to opposition by Republican state senators. It is unlikely that any progress will be made by the Nov. 16 deadline, unless the governor calls a special session, Wallingford said.

Nixon was mum on his opinion about the Supreme Court's decision, releasing a statement saying he is "committed to working collaboratively with citizens, businesses, medical providers and the legislature to move forward in a way that works best for families in our state."

Rallying voters

Looking ahead, lawmakers opposed to the act are hoping the ruling will rally voters to make changes at the top levels of government so that it can be effectively overturned.

"I've voted repeatedly for repeal in the U.S. House, and I voted against the ACA twice on passage. But we need strong partners in the U.S. Senate and the White House who agree that giving the federal government massive amounts of power over our health care decisions is bad for patients and for our American system of care," Emerson said.

"In the upcoming election, the 71 percent of Missourians who opposed government-mandated health coverage can fight back and elect leaders who will represent their will," Brandom said.

salderman@semissourian.com

388-3648

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