Walden: Expect health law changes

U.S. REP. GREG Walden is shown in 2013 with 20,000 pages of regulations called the “Red Tape Tower” that are tied to the almost 1,000-page Affordable Care Act. Walden said more pages have been added since last year and the stack is expected to continue growing ambiguous rules are further defined. Contributed photo

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said it was “not surprising” to have MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, often referred to as the “intellectual author” of the Affordable Care Act, make incendiary comments last week about design and passage of the law.

What was “shocking,” said Walden, was having President Barack Obama and Democrat leaders, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, immediately deny the depth of Gruber’s involvement.

“That’s not going to fly when he was paid almost $400,000 in consulting fees and visited the White House 12 times between 2009 and 2012, including a four-hour meeting in the Oval Office with Obama, according to the White House logs,” said Walden.

“Mr. Gruber was very, very much involved in the passage of Obamacare and now he’s been captured on video telling their truth — it’s pretty disgusting.”

Gruber has been shown in several video clips making statements, such as “lack of transparency was a huge political advantage” for Democrats in regard to development of the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

He also said, “the stupidity of the American voter” was critical to get anything to pass.

“From the time Nancy Pelosi said in 2010 that, ‘We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it,’ we felt it was disingenuous,” said Walden, who grew up in The Dalles and now makes his home in Hood River.

“The numbers (ACA) weren’t adding up and we were given less than 12 hours to read an almost 1,000-page bill before it was voted on.”

At some point in the near future, he said GOP leaders are likely to call for hearings to learn more from Gruber and other federal officials.

“Transparency has been missing from this process since Day One. We will deal with that at the appropriate time,” said Walden.

Background

He said not a single Republican voted for the health care law put together by Democrats, which controlled both chambers in 2009 and early 2010.

“This law was crafted behind closed doors and we were not allowed to offer a single amendment,” he said.

He said Obamacare was sold as a way to rein in health care costs, including insurance premiums, to gain better control of a spiraling deficit.

“It was very complicated, it was very confusing and there’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” said Walden.

He said Democrat leaders did not want their plan to nationalize health care derailed by facts about costs or how the medical industry would change.

“They very much wanted the government to be in control of health insurance and one-sixth of the nation’s economy,” he said. Walden won re-election earlier this month to the Second Congressional District seat he has held since 1998. He has risen in rank over the years and currently serves as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

What’s next

With the GOP soon to take the majority in the Senate and have an even stronger grip on the House, he said the stage is set to make changes to the unpopular health care law.

According to a new Gallup poll, only 37 percent of Americans approve of the ACA, the lowest rating on record.

Republicans contend that one of the misleading aspects of Obamacare is that 10 years of taxes were counted against six years of “benefits” to produce huge projected savings.

Walden said equally disturbing is that the Obama Administration used its authority under the new law to cut home health care payments by 14 percent over four years. The board that sets Medicare rates predicts that the cuts will cause more than 40 percent of health providers nationwide —and 70 percent in Oregon — to operate in the red.

The law cuts an estimated $716 billion from Medicare over 10 years to fund new spending and Walden said it is unknown how that will play out.

Coming cost

He said the true cost of Obamacare has yet to be revealed because the rules – more than 20,000 pages — are still being interpreted.

What is known is that by 2015, individuals who don’t have health insurance will face a fine from the IRS of $395 or 2 percent of their income, whichever is higher. Many low-priced plans will also see rate increases next year.

According to the Manhattan Institute, Obamacare has already increased insurance rates on younger women by an average of 44 percent while younger men experience an increase of 91 percent.

Walden said, back in 2008, Obama promised health insurance costs would decrease by an average of $2,500 per family – but that is not the reality.

Pricewaterhouse Cooper’s Health Research Institute predicts an average rate increase of 7 percent for families in 2015.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects the expected growth of health care costs to be about 6.2 percent each year for the indefinite future.

“Hopefully, he (Obama) will change course and actually be willing to sit down and work with us on some of these policies,” said Walden.

Digging in

Obama stated after big Republican wins in November that he would veto legislation to overturn his signature piece of legislation.

In July, Walden and other Republicans sponsored a bill to stop the loss of home health care funds. Instead, savings are achieved by establishing a value-based purchasing program to better incentivize home healthcare agencies to deliver high-quality services. The legislation has yet to be heard by the Senate.

“This plan is designed to be budget neutral and positions Medicare to save money in the long run,” said Walden, who believes the time is finally right to make true reforms.

If the law is not changed, he said the trend of more people seeking emergency room care because they can’t meet insurance deductibles will continue, which is the reverse of what Obama promised.

In addition, Walden said more hospitals and clinics are “grouping up” to save costs, which is reducing the number of doctors available to see patients.

On his watch list is small businesses, which are expected to reduce employee hours to avoid paying the rising cost of insurance.

“We can do better than this,” said Walden.

Legal fight

While GOP leaders debate how to proceed with changes, the future of Obamacare could be decided on another front.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced it will consider a challenge involving a potential flaw in the underlying 2010 law. At issue is whether lower-income individuals can be subsidized from federal insurance exchanges instead of, as stated in the ACA, by state-run exchanges.

Without subsidies, Democrats say the mandate that everyone buy insurance to keep it affordable for all will collapse, causing the overall program to disintegrate.

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