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Lawmakers: 'Obamacare' causing burden for rural residents

Members of US House discuss health care in Hall County

POSTED: November 25, 2013 3:24 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia's 11th District listens to testimony during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's special hearing Monday at the Hall County Government Center. The hearing investigated the impacts of the Affordable Care Act, especially on rural America.

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Hundreds of Hall County residents turned out Monday morning to hear from a panel of professionals and members of the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee on how the Affordable Care Act is affecting local doctors, insurance companies, small business owners and families.

The new federal health care law is helping some and hurting others in rural Georgia who already face obstacles to medical access. Georgia Reps. Doug Collins, Jack Kingston, Rob Woodall and Phil Gingrey heard testimony Monday morning at the Hall County Government Center in Gainesville. The Republicans were joined by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

The hearing was largely critical of the law and President Barack Obama. A small group of activists attended the meeting in the hopes of being able to testify about the need for Medicaid expansion in Georgia, which is a key element of the federal law but something Gov. Nathan Deal has said would be too expensive for the state to implement.

Woodall said the goal was to hear about “real-world implications of the law” and find solutions for reforming health care.

As many as 400,000 Georgians have received insurance cancellation notices, forcing them to find insurance through a government exchange or in the private market, paying more and having fewer choices, he said. Rural communities, he said, also suffer from limited insurance carriers and a shortage of doctors and other medical providers, including nurses and physician assistants.

Hall County is part of the 9th District, represented by Collins. He said the new health care law may have had good intentions, but was based on bad reasoning.

“This is a job killer,” he said. “It’s the ‘Obamacare’ act that is causing more burden and more cost and will lead to more restrictions on Americans, not only getting health care, but paying for it.”

Witnesses included Jeff Reinhardt, president of The Longstreet Clinic; Michael Boyette, Ellijay small business owner; Emma Collins, self-employed with a pre-existing condition; and Raymer Sale Jr., president of Gwinnett County-based E2E Benefits Services Inc.

Democratic committee members were invited to attend the field hearing and could have invited a witness, said a committee spokeswoman, but none turned out for the meeting.

“We’re being led to believe (insurance) polices in effect prior to 2014 are inferior,” Sale said, an employee benefits and human resources administration provider. “To whose standards? Most of the policies in effect now were purchased to fit the specific needs of the consumer.”

Reinhardt, who is also a practicing physician, said it’s not news that health care is in crisis and its cost has dramatically risen.

He cited statistics from the World Health Organization saying U.S. health care costs have gone up from 13.9 percent of the gross domestic product in the 1990s to nearly 18 percent this year, with employee health care costs jumping 150 percent. Access to quality care is limited because of many factors, including high costs, geography, doctor shortages and stagnant Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Longstreet Clinic serves rural and urban hospitals in Northeast Georgia.

“In general, the universal access for health care is the emergency room,” Reinhardt said. “The nearly 50 million uninsured and non-elderly Americans receive much of their health care in the ER.”

Boyette, 28 is married, has one child and one on the way. The Boyettes have insurance through the state through his wife’s job. Under the new law, his family’s insurance premium has gone up $190 a month, from $350 to $540. “We have less coverage than before at a higher out-of-pocket expense,” Boyette said. “One company, three choices, that was it. This was not what (President Barack Obama) assured me and many others.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 94 percent of Georgia’s uninsured and eligible population, or about 1.5 million residents, would qualify either for tax credits or Medicaid if the state expanded the program.

The department also says 3,726 Georgia residents with pre-existing conditions have already gained coverage due to the law.

Witnesses recommended to committee members that the government expand community health care centers, offer a la carte insurance options and help doctors develop databases that could measure quality of care.

Gingrey suggested extending group coverage, also known as COBRA.

Reinhardt said payment reform was needed.

Emma Collins, 47, a licensed massage therapist, has an artificial heart valve and was unable to get coverage because of her pre-existing condition.

Her husband, also self-employed, and her daughter were covered under a catastrophic plan for $265 a month.

They were notified in October the company was changing the policy and the price went up to $898 a month, a price she called “outrageous.” The deductible for the plan is $12,000 for both family members.

Her family doesn’t qualify for subsidies or Medicaid.

“That is not in one way, shape or form, acceptable or affordable,” she said.

Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville said the law has had “devastating effects” on Americans and told the story of a local pharmacist who closed his business because of compliance costs and uncertainty associated with the law.

“Costs to the person may go down for some, and it will go up for others,” Collins said. “But for everybody as taxpayers, you are going to pay for this no matter what.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.


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