NC lawmakers battle over Affordable Care Act

Posted March 18, 2014
Updated March 19, 2014

— Four years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, North Carolina lawmakers are again drawing battle lines over the controversial overhaul of the nation's health care insurance system. 

Tuesday was the first meeting of the Joint Study Committee on the Affordable Care Act and Implementation Issues, a special study panel created in January by Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. 

“Given the steps we have taken over the last three years to reduce taxes and regulations on working North Carolinians, it’s important to get to the bottom of how 'Obamacare' impacts our state’s economy and citizens on a daily basis," Tillis and Berger said in the press release announcing the panel's formation. "This committee will delve deeply into the problems 'Obamacare' has caused to the health insurance marketplace and to our economy as businesses and individuals absorb the costs.”

Attacks on the Affordable Care Act are expected to be a central theme of the Republican Party's national campaign strategy this fall. They're likely to play out on screens in North Carolina, too, where Tillis is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Berger's son, Phil Berger Jr., is running for the 6th Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Congressman Howard Coble.

The first meeting was a series of presentations by experts, beginning with Duke University professor Chris Conover, a conservative health economist and noted critic of President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Conover is affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Mercatus Center, two conservative think tanks. 

Affordable Care Act generic WRAL.com resource center: Affordable Care Act

Conover, openly dismissive of the law in his two-hour presentation, warned lawmakers that he believes it will be financially disastrous for the state and the country. He predicted it would cost North Carolina's economy the equivalent of 90,000 full-time jobs and may even lead to worse, not better, health outcomes for the very low-income population it was designed to help, because some of the funding for the legislation will come from cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

The economist also blasted the "confusion" of the law's botched roll-out.

"Chances are only about 50/50 that the ACA, at this point in time, has actually reduced the number of uninsured," he said, a statement supporters of the legislation say is untrue.

Expanding Medicaid, Conover said, could actually hurt the "near poor" – people making between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level – because once they become eligible for Medicaid, they can no longer receive subsidies for private insurance, which he said is superior. 

He also warned lawmakers against expanding Medicaid to the "near poor," saying it would be a disincentive to them to work and adding that Medicaid has not been proven to produce enough benefits "to justify its very high costs."

Sen. Ron Rabin, R-Harnett, said that if Conover is even partially right, the result would be an "economic Armageddon" for the state, and lawmakers must prepare for it. 

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, called the presentation "completely biased."

"Is it intended that we will have someone speak or provide us with information that actually believes the Affordable Care Act is a good idea?" he asked committee co-chairman Rep. Jim Fulghum, R-Wake.

Fulghum responded that he "will welcome recommendations from members" for speakers with other viewpoints.

McKissick said he had not been invited to submit any recommendations but would do so before the next meeting, scheduled for next month in Greensboro.

Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel held their own event Tuesday morning to call attention to people who have benefited from the health care law.

Rep. Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg, said the hearing is more about the politics of the law than the policy.

"I think we have a lot of people running for a lot of other elected positions, and that's the only thing that I can think of as to why we are actually taking it on now," Earle said. "I'm not optimistic that we're going to accomplish a lot."

North Carolina is one of the top states for sign-ups through the federal online marketplace. More than 200,000 people have purchased coverage. The deadline for enrolling to avoid a tax penalty this year is March 31.

"The Affordable Care Act is already having a positive impact on the health of the people of North Carolina," said Dr. Susan Eder, a Raleigh psychiatrist and one of several medical professionals who attended the press conference.  

Eder said she works with many low-income families previously unable to buy coverage because of pre-existing conditions, from high blood pressure to asthma. 

"In a civilized nation, this is a disgrace that is rectified by the Affordable Care Act," Eder said, "and I can tell you all these people that now have gotten private insurance under the ACA are thankful." 

Retta Riordan, a small-business owner from Apex, said she had been "uninsurable" before the Affordable Care Act because of a knee injury. She signed up through the federal marketplace last fall and now has coverage.

"To those both in North Carolina and nationally who are advocating the repeal of the Affordable Care Act,  I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of those of us who have been uninsured," Riordan said.  

Committee member Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said most of the problems with the law's implementation in North Carolina have been caused by Republican leaders' refusal to set up a state exchange or accept federal Medicaid expansion funding.

The law was designed under the assumption that an expansion of Medicaid would help cover low-income people. North Carolina refused the expansion, leaving at least 320,000 low-income people without coverage or subsidy help.  

"I think that the main product of these meetings will be talking points for the base for the Republican candidates," Insko said. "Criticizing is the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is to solve a problem and we're not doing that. That’s what we need to be attending to."


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  • heatherh425 Mar 26, 2014

    As an insurance agent, it is unfortunate that no one had informed Ms. Riordan about the high risk pool available in NC. It was a great option, with great coverage, for those denied by insurance companies. There are individuals that will benefit from the ACA, no doubt. But those cost reductions are paid for on the back of every tax payer in the country. Senator McKissick may want to look at the big picture before calling Mr. Conover's presentation biased. I have been studying this law since it's passage, I have taught the seminars, and you can only get it to smell like a rose for so long before the reality of the TOTAL effects becomes evident.

  • Jack Jones Mar 20, 2014
    user avatar

    Shame on Republicans for wasting taxpayer money on this biased "dog & pony show".

  • veryfrustrated1 Mar 20, 2014

    "While premiums may be cheaper, out of pocket costs on exchange plans tend to be higher. A survey by HealthPocket.com found the deductibles on the exchange plans were 42 percent higher than employer based policies. But now, even insurers say Obamacare consumers can expect to experience sticker shock from both premiums and deductibles."

  • mkg1047 Mar 19, 2014

    As a small business owner, I have several customers who have either tried to sign up or have completed the application and they hate it. They are finding out the deductible is between $3,600 to $7,000. They have made payments and try to see a doctor but can't because the Market Health Center never sent the payment or it cannot be found. Some people have waited two months to see the doctor because the Insurance policy assigned to them has not received the payment. ACA is a nightmare! Regardless of your political affiliation, it is time you start listening to, and working for the people who elected you to represent our best interest. Start talking to the people and you will learn the facts about this failing ACA! The overwhelming majority of voters in North Carolina did not support ACA when it was initially passed, and that has not changed.

  • veryfrustrated1 Mar 19, 2014

    The ACA is just as discriminatory as the voter ID laws!

  • lessismore Mar 19, 2014

    99percenters..... name one lie that Hannity has told. Just one... you can't.

  • Michael Hart Mar 19, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    let me guess, You "Heard this" on either
    Faux News or Hannity's 24 hour show of Lies!

  • glarg Mar 19, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Yes, most people have completely predictable medical expense from year to year. It doesnt make sense to use insurance to buy a predictable expense- can we agree on that?

    Insurance is useful for unlikely but expensive events. If the event occurs 100% of the time then paying for it with insurance means that the premium is going to be the entire cost plus an inefficiency cost.

    If your family is going to have 6 doctors visits a year for checkups then paying by insurance makes no sense. It just drives up costs.

    Catastrophic care policies cover you for extraordinary events. If you get leukemia then you use your insurance. Cat care policies are relatively cheap because the likelihood of your getting cancer in a year is small.

  • ssi Mar 19, 2014

    "The ACA was passed by the House and Senate, signed into law by the President and upheld by the US Supreme Court. It is the law like it or not . . ." - Inter Alios

    I love it when folks say that the ACA is "the law." And they are absolutely correct in doing so. But what you never hear from them is the little, but well-known, fact that our president has broken, delayed, ignored, changed, etc., the parts of "the law" he doesn't like at a particular point. What is it, 38, 39 times now? (What would happen to us if we chose to ignore or disobey certain laws?) First of all, he has no Constituional authority to change laws. The Congress retains that authority. There is one, and only one, reason he has done so: the fall elections. Politics, pure and simple. IMO he, and those of his party, don't want the full effects of the ACA to be felt until after the elections.

    I say implement the ACA now. Today. To its fullest. Then we'll see how much folks really like it.

  • Michael Hart Mar 19, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    I not the one constantly portraying myself, or announcing that I am a Christian, and then talk as if the Meek are not to inherit the Earth and need to be dealt with by not providing the simplest need of Healthcare..... Am I? They were considered, back in 1993 when the Heritage Foundation and Newt Gingrinch presented it as a alternative to Clinton's Healthcare proposal... Matter of Fact, key provisions were removed from same by the GOP as a Negotiated part of what is the ACA. Of course you knew that!
    P.s. to be a Christian means never having to state so publically!