Issues, Obamacare

As Congress Plots Repeal, Former Pennsylvania Democrat Faces $784 in Monthly Premiums Under Obamacare

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Before President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, he promised Americans they would have quality, affordable health care, and would be able to keep their same health insurance plans and doctors.

But in the three years since Obamacare’s exchanges opened for business, Ross Schriftman, 64, said none of those promises have come to fruition for him.

Before the health care law was implemented, Schriftman was paying $218 per month for coverage from Independence Blue Cross with a $5,000 deductible. In 1974, long before the Obamacare seed was planted, Schriftman recalled paying just $12 per month for his very first health insurance plan.

This year, though, Schriftman’s policy with Independence Blue Cross is costing him $784 per month with a $6,500 deductible. Schriftman, an insurance agent, doesn’t qualify for a subsidy.

Before the health care law was implemented and into Obamacare’s first years of existence, Schriftman, a former Democrat, deposited money throughout the year into his health savings account, or a medical savings account.

But now that his premiums have increased so substantially, the health insurance agent said he can no longer afford to put away the extra money.

And before the implementation of the health care law, Schriftman, like millions of other Americans, was told he would be able to keep his plan once Obamacare took effect.

But, also like millions of other Americans, his original $218-per-month policy with Independence Blue Cross was canceled.

Schriftman picked a new plan through Aetna, but history repeated itself, and the insurer canceled his plan.

“Talk about choice,” he told The Daily Signal. “Talk about losing.”

Now, Schriftman is back where he was before Obamacare’s implementation, with a policy from Independence Blue Cross.

This time, though, some things are different.

“I’m paying higher premiums. I’m paying higher taxes, and I have worse coverage,” he said.

In a statement to The Daily Signal, Paula Sunshine, chief marketing officer for Independence Blue Cross, said the insurer is working with consumers to “find the benefits that are right for them and the care they need,” but said the company also needs to “ensure a sustainable market.”

“Our rates reflect the changing market trends impacting insurers here and across the country,” Sunshine said.

Taking Action

Like so many Americans on both sides of the debate over Obamacare, Schriftman is watching the Republican-led Congress closely as it works on a plan to repeal and replace the health care law.

Since Obama signed Obamacare into law in 2010, GOP lawmakers have been talking about repealing it, and have voted to do so more than 60 times.

But with Obama in the White House, their efforts were unsuccessful.

That changed Nov. 8, when voters elected Republican businessman Donald Trump to the White House, and the GOP retained control of both the House and the Senate.

Trump, along with many Republicans on the ballot, campaigned on repealing Obamacare.

This year, they’ll finally have their shot.

GOP lawmakers have agreed to roll back much of the health care law using reconciliation, a budget tool that is especially powerful in the Senate.

There, reconciliation bills need just 51 votes to pass, and Republicans hold 52 seats in the upper chamber.

But while the GOP has come to an agreement on how to repeal Obamacare, the party is split over when to vote on its replacement—and hasn’t yet agreed on a replacement—and whether to get rid of Obamacare’s taxes immediately.

Democrats and the White House, meanwhile, are warning that repealing the law would cause 20 million Americans who gained health insurance under Obamacare to lose coverage.

And it’s a concern that has some Republicans rethinking whether repeal first, replace later is a viable strategy.

“I think it’s important that we move sooner on a replacement than later,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told The Daily Signal, “just to alleviate some of the concerns of those that may be fearful of losing their health insurance.”

Meadows said he would like to see the House move Obamacare’s repeal on a “parallel track” as a replacement, though he contends Congress will have to act on its repeal first.

“It’s important for us in the House to at least start debating the merits of a replacement plan sooner than later,” he said. “Part of that is hearing from constituents who definitely want it repealed, but there’s also a group who say they definitely want to know what they can count on when repeal takes place.”

Republican leaders said they want to have a bill repealing Obamacare on the president-elect’s desk not long after his Jan. 20 inauguration, and the Senate has already taken the first step toward dismantling the health care law through reconciliation.

But their plan has been disrupted by a group of five GOP senators attempting to delay repeal until March.

Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio offered an amendment to the budget resolution that would give House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over Obamacare until March 23 to write the legislation that would roll back the health care law.

House Republican leaders, though, are committed to moving forward with repeal.

“Without delay, we are taking action,” Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Tuesday. “We are putting in place the tools necessary to keep our promise on this law.”

Gun-shy

Schriftman, who lives in Maple Glen, Pennsylvania, has been active in Democratic politics since the 1970s.

In 1974, 1976, and 2004, he ran for the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives, but ultimately decided to leave the party.

Now, Schriftman is calling on congressional Democrats to work with Republicans to craft a replacement for Obamacare, or face a continued loss of support from constituents.

“You can help craft legislation that provides real reform or you can stubbornly cling to your failed programs and force your constituents to continue suffering with high premiums, high deductibles, lack of choices, and high taxes to pay for it,” Schriftman wrote in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

He fears that if Republicans don’t repeal and replace the law, the future of health insurance under Obamacare will continue on a downhill slide.

“They’re not going to do better in 2018 if they stand in the way of reform,” Schriftman said of congressional Democrats. “If nothing changes and all they do is a little fix and keep the basic structure of Obamacare in place, where are the American people going to be in two years? What are the premiums going to be in two years? How many carriers are going to be left in two years? How many doctors are going to be really happy?”

And though he believes Republicans in Congress now have a real opportunity to repeal the law, Schriftman said he’s “anxious about some of the Republicans getting gun-shy.”

“This is their opportunity. This is it,” he said. “They either get behind fixing it, or they’re going to have even worse problems with the public. People are just so fed up.”

Commentary by Melissa Quinn, the Daily Signal

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