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September 1, 2013

Health care debate rages

Three Wabash Valley legislators weigh in on October implementation of Obamacare, fight to defund law, shut down federal government

TERRE HAUTE — A threatened government shutdown is being proposed to block funding for the Affordable Care Act, a maneuver addressed this week by three federal lawmakers during separate stops in Vigo County.

Earlier this month, the Heritage Foundation and the tea party-aligned FreedomWorks pressured Republicans to refuse to fund the federal government past September unless money to implement the health care law is removed. Heritage Foundation encouraged House members to sign a letter to GOP leaders, seeking to defund the health care law.

A major component of the law is health exchanges. Open enrollment for those exchanges will start in October. The exchanges allow the uninsured and those who buy insurance on their own to compare insurance plans and possibly receive subsidies to buy the plans.

The Tribune-Star caught up with U.S. Reps. Larry Bucshon, R-8th District, and Todd Rokita, R-4th District, along with U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, last week to seek their opinions on the health care law.

Rokita, of Clemont, visited workers at Duke Energy in Vigo County and made a quick visit to the Coffee Cup on North Lafayette Avenue, where he answered questions on the Affordable Care Act. Rokita signed the Heritage Foundation letter.

“I have voted to repeal and defund the law 40 times already, so I didn’t see what the big hullabaloo was with this letter or doing it again,” Rokita said. “I want to take every chance I possibly can to get rid of this bad law, and it is bad.”

Rokita said he will take every opportunity to defund the Affordable Health Act “until it becomes illogical.” Rokita said because “Medicare and Medicaid are funded, and Obamacare is part of that,” a government shutdown may not have much impact, he said.

“To me, at that point, it gets illogical to shut down the government if you really aren’t going to stop Obamacare,” Rokita said. “At that point, I think we ought to switch to the debt ceiling, because I think we have better leverage there.”

The GOP could pass a 60-day continuing resolution that keeps the government funded through the end of November, about the time the nation’s debt ceiling would again need to be raised.

Rokita said he is working with a group of eight doctors who are part of the Republican Study Committee, “writing an Obamacare replacement bill right now.”

“It will be based on free markets,” he said. “It will allow you to purchase insurance across state lines, so you can get these insurance carriers to engage in competition to lower the price. It will include tort reform, which is driving up healthcare costs and replaces and defunds Obamacare again,” Rokita said of the proposed legislation still being drafted.

“It really encourages the wide ranging use of health savings accounts, special health care accounts that allow you to get tax free or tax deductible dollars to use for your own health care,” Rokita added. “That is an element of consumerism, where consumers can be in charge of pricing. We are trying to get elements of transparency, too, so consumers can actually see pricing,” he added.

Bucshon, of Evansville, addressed the Terre Haute Rotary Club and spoke after that meeting.

“My position is the whole bill needs to be repealed. I do think that there will be an effort to defund sections of the bill, to either delay it or stop it,” Bucshon said. “Am I in favor of a government shutdown? Absolutely not.”

Bucshon said he did not sign the Heritage Foundation letter.

“In general, I don’t sign letters to leadership or the president, because they are not effective,” Bucshon said. “When I have an issue with my leadership, Speaker [Rep. John] Boehner, or [House Majority Leader Rep.] Eric Cantor, I actually go and talk to them personally and give them my view personally on behalf of the people I represent. I think that is a more effective way to communicate a message to the leadership.”

Bucshon said he thinks “there needs to be affordable, private-sector health insurance for citizens as an option.

“Essentially, I think [the Affordable Care Act] is the wrong approach. I think it will ultimately lead to a single-payer, which, in my opinion, is not the right thing to do,” he said. “I think ultimately, if you are down to a single-payer, every other country in the world that has a single-payer rations health care. I think it specifically would affect seniors more than other groups because other countries ration on age and health and other things.

“I am seriously concerned it would lead to significant rationing of health care if we go to a single-payer,” he said.

The legislator, however, doesn’t favor returning to the system in place before health care reform.

“What we can’t do is go back to where we were — that is not what I am saying — because the cost is too high, there is no price transparency in health care,” Bucshon said. “People don’t know what things cost, and we have too many people uninsured.”

Bucshon is a co-sponsor of Empowering Patients First, legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., which would repeal the federal health law and replace it with patient-centered solutions.

Sen. Donnelly, D-Granger, who last week visited the 181st Intelligence Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard on the base at Hulman Field, said a measure to shut down the government would not stop funding of the health care law, and any measure to eliminate it would not pass.

“There’s no chance that will happen. The Senate won’t pass it, and the President won’t sign it,” Donnelly said. “There is no desire to take away health care.

In 2012, health care rates for businesses increased only 4 percent, the lowest increase in many years, Donnelly said, because of the presence of the health care bill.

“Time is better spent looking at how to make the health care act more effective,” he said.

Donnelly is co-sponsor of a bill that redefines a full work week as 40 hours, rather than 30 hours. That is a way to address the actions by schools and other employers to decrease part-time work hours from 30 to 29 so that benefits are not paid, the senator said.

When health exchanges take effect in October, Donnelly said, Indiana will see new insurance rates, and the state will know how the Affordable Care Act has really affected insurance rates.

“I think rates will be extraordinarily competitive for Hoosiers,” he said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@tribstar.com.

Reporter Lisa Trigg contributed to this report and can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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