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2014-01-02

Cornyn on ACA - 'This is not a game.'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

In a conference call in November, United States Senator John Cornyn continued to rail against Obamacare - aka the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
"Obamacare continues to consume people's attention and produce headlines," he said, referring to the Oct. 1 debacle of the debut of the Healthcare.gov website and the draconian cancellation of coverage on 5 million previously insured Americans.
"In Texas, there's been a bi-partisan concern for patients in high risk pools who will be dropped by their insurance carriers on Dec. 31," Cornyn said. "The question remains: Will the insurance exchanges be up and running by that time?" He said state officials are currently exploring ways to ensure coverage for high-risk patients will continue.
Lies & sticker shock
The next issue, according to Cornyn, was that fact that in 2010, President Barack Obama and others in his administration became aware of the coming problems with the ACA "... but the president and Senate Democrats continued to insist, 'If you like your insurance policy, you'll be able to keep it,' which certainly isn't the case," Cornyn said.
Another problem with the ACA is the sticker shock that accompanies newly written policies. Even with federal subsidies, these new policies will be substantially more expensive than previous ones, according to Cornyn. "Another fundamental promise made to the American people is that they would be able to keep their physicians," he continued, "but the insurance exchanges do not allow that."
One of Cornyn's utmost concerns is the subject of the so-called healthcare navigators who have not been vetted. When she appeared before the Senate Committee on Finance hearing on health insurance exchanges, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted to Cornyn that no background checks on the federal level had been conducted on the navigators. To Cornyn's question: "So the navigators could be felons?" Sebelius replied, "Yes."
Concerned with
navigators
In a letter to Obama on Nov. 20, Cornyn listed his concerns about the healthcare navigators.
In August 2013, Health and Human Services (HHS) distributed a total of $67 million in taxpayer-funded grants to 105 organizations to create the navigator programs. As mandated by the ACA, navigators would provide education and enrollment assistance to individuals in 34 states who enrolled through the federal exchange.
In addition, these programs would be responsible for hiring, training and certifying navigators to assist people purchase insurance on the federal exchange. "However," Cornyn pointed out, "the administration established only minimal federal requirements for individuals who could be certified as navigators."
He also wrote about his exchange with Sebelius during the Senate Committee on Finance hearing.
"Secretary Sebelius acknowledged that there were no federal requirements that navigators undergo a criminal background check and agreed it was 'possible' for navigators to be convicted felons," Cornyn wrote.
He pointed out that, according to the HHS Navigator Standard Operating Procedures Manual, in the course of assisting individuals who enroll on the exchanges, navigators will have access to consumers' personal information, such as date of birth, social security number and tax information.
Criminal histories?
Cornyn noted, "Recent news reports have revealed navigators with criminal backgrounds have been certified calling into question the safety of vulnerable Americans' personal information as they attempt to comply with the law."
He continued, "Reports have also recently surfaced of navigators encouraging individuals to misreport their taxable income in order to receive higher subsidies than they are legally eligible to receive. These navigators are not only condoning tax fraud, they are actively encouraging consumers to illegally obtain federal health care subsidies and defraud American taxpayers."
At the letter's conclusion, Cornyn asked Obama to "... bring an end to the troubled navigator program. Americans must be protected, and this program should stop before any more harm is done."
During the last week's conference, a clearly trouble Cornyn said, "This is not a game. It is the most important issue facing the American people today. Everyone is worried and scared that they will no longer have access to affordable health care.
Citing results from an earlier independent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, Cornyn said that 88 percent of those polled were satisfied with their current insurance coverage. "Why takeover one sixth of the economy to focus on the other 12 percent?" he asked. "This remains an unfolding story that we will be revisiting for quite some time."
'Thrilled' with ACA
He also encouraged Sebelius, who was scheduled to be in Dallas and Houston on Dec. 20, to meet with Texans who have lost their health care coverage due to Obamacare during her upcoming visit.
"I have heard from hundreds of Texans across the state who are facing dropped coverage and dramatically higher premiums for their health care," Cornyn said. "I hope Secretary Sebelius will take the time to meet with some of these people while she's in Texas. The stories I've heard are infuriating, and I think if Sec. Sebelius were to listen, it would be evident why this program needs dismantling."
During a Dec. 11 Congressional Hearing, Sebelius asserted, "A lot of individuals who received cancellation notices are thrilled with the choices that are now available to them." Cornyn offered these rebuttals:
• "Thrilled" in Fair Oaks Ranch - "I am a business owner struggling to make ends meet. I've just been informed that I will be forced to change my health insurance policy at the end of the policy year at an increase of approximately 50 percent. I cannot afford and do not want this new policy and will not qualify for a subsidy." Joe Bruce, Fair Oaks Ranch (Source: Office of US Sen. John Cornyn)
• "Thrilled" in Chicago, Illinois - "That plan, that costs us over 50 percent more a month, changes our deductible from $5,200 to $12,700." - Jamie Walters, who grows corn on 3,000 acres west of Chicago, and recently received a cancellation notice. His old policy covered him and his wife and three young children for $585 a month with a $5,200 family deductible. The cheapest plan he can get on HealthCare.gov will cost him $902 a month. (Source: NPR)
• "Thrilled" in Washington, DC - "Between the higher premiums and the much higher maximum out-of-pocket costs, {it} will cost me probably more than $5,000 a year more than what I'm already paying for health insurance. It's been a total sticker shock. I have had some health issues this year, and I have had to reduce some of my workload. It's a real hardship right now. My husband is 67 years old. I'm 58. We are desperately trying to save for retirement." Deborah Perisco, Washington, DC (Source: PBS)
"Rather than holding events to funnel more Texans into this broken system, the Obama Administration should put an end to this failed program and allow Congress to enact patient-centered reforms to improve access and bring down costs for all Americans," Cornyn concluded.