When Sherman County farmer Darren Padget recently visited U.S. Rep. Greg Walden’s office in Washington, D.C., to complain about a more than 400 percent increase in his family’s health insurance premium, he didn’t expect to have that information shared in a House floor speech.
However, he is pleased that Walden brought the issue before his peers because he knows many other families who are struggling to pay coverage costs.
“I call it the Unaffordable Care Act,” said Padget of President Barack Obama’s signature legislation that is commonly called “Obamacare.”
Padget visited D.C. in his role as chair of the Oregon Wheat Commission, but took personal time to bring his issue to Walden.
He said that his family has had Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon since his marriage to Brenda 31 years ago, when premiums were about $53 per month.
For the last several years, the Padgets have been paying to cover themselves and their daughter, Kylie, who is in grad school in California. Under the Affordable Care Act, they have a bronze plan offered through the individual market. Their son Logan, who is also working on the wheat farm near Moro, has his own policy.
The Padgets previously had a $10,000 deductible to keep their monthly premiums low. Darren said they saw the occasional increase, but nothing remarkable, until December 2015 when Obamacare kicked in.
Within a one-month period, the $314 per month the Padgets paid jumped to $1,047.12. By the end of 2016, the cost had risen to $1,353.50. Their deductible mandatorily decreased to $7,500.
“We are now paying $16,242 per year for the same policy,” said Darren. “Plus, I don’t have freedom to carry the high deductible I had before.”
He said the cost of coverage has become so high that his daughter was dropped off the family plan and has signed up for insurance under Cover California, a marketplace for health plans.
“The Gecko and Flo ought to be in charge if you want prices to go down,” said Darren of the situation, referencing Geico and Progressive insurance advertisements.
He said a free market system is needed to encourage consumer choice and competition. He believes reducing government regulations to give insurance companies more flexibility in coverage would also be helpful.
In his March 9 floor speech, Walden addressed the Padgets’ situation and another involving a Malheur County constituent. He said that man, a cancer survivor whom he did not name, had been hit with a premium increase from $400 to $1,200 per month and a deductible that rose from $1,000 to $10,000.
“The point is that this individual market is in dire straits and people can’t afford what the government is forcing them to buy,” said Walden, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that will play a key role in reforming health care. “I’m sharing these stories because we’re trying to get the right plan for the right reasons.”
Walden said he had devoted his public service to making make sure rural communities had access to affordable health care, and he would continue to do so.
“President Obama said families would see their premiums go down $2,500, a promise not kept. He said you could keep your doctor, that was a promise not kept.
“He said you could keep your insurance plan if you liked it, and that was a promise not kept,” said Walden.
Although the Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act earlier this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the legislation March 24 after moderate and conservative factions within the party disagreed with different elements of the plan.
Ryan confirmed earlier this week that talks are underway to revive the bill, but he declined to offer a timetable for a vote.
“This is still a problem and we’re going to keep working on it,” said Andrew Malcolm, press secretary for Walden, on Wednesday in regard to the ongoing negotiations.
Democrats have stated their intent to oppose replacement of Obamacare en masse out of the belief that millions will lose coverage.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said after the Republican plan was withdrawn that she was proud of Democrats for standing together to deliver “a victory for the American people.”
“The unity of our House Democratic members was a very important message to the country that we are very proud of the Affordable Care Act,” she told reporters.