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GOP slams Obamacare rollout, as it works to repeal law

6:55 AM, Apr 26, 2013   |    comments
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(CBS NEWS) -- The rollout of a new national health care program is sure to hit some bumps in the road. But after one of the Affordable Care Act's authors and proponents called the implementation a potential train wreck, Republicans in Congress seized the opportunity to point out the law's shortcomings and revive their arguments for repealing it.

After Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who helped draft the health care law, used the phrase "train wreck" to characterize the potentially rocky implementation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday penned an op-ed for Reuters arguing that President Obama should explain to the public the what hardships they'll face after the law is implemented.

"The president must step into the breach and explain to the public that skyrocketing premiums and a raft of new taxes, penalties and fees are coming their way," he wrote.

McConnell's op-ed highlights some of the law's legitimate downsides, it exaggerates others and omits the law's upsides -- proving how politically sensitive the Affordable Care Act still is.

It's true, for example, that health insurance premiums are expected to rise for some people. McConnell fails to note, however, that subsidies will offset that increased cost for some. Millions of Americans, meanwhile, will have access to health insurance that was previously unavailable. And while the Affordable Care Act did include several new tax provisions -- and raises taxes for some -- most Americans won't see any direct tax increases.

McConnell suggests that Mr. Obama should deliver a "major address... laying out what Americans can expect... Families and businesses across America need time to prepare -- and that means they need to know the facts."

Recent polling shows that Obamacare does remain controversial, and most Americans aren't exactly sure how the law will impact them. The Health and Human Services Department is conducting outreach to remedy this ahead of Obamacare's next big milestone -- the opening of the state-based health care exchanges. The exchanges will be online marketplaces where consumers can purchase a private insurance plan. Open enrollment for 2014 coverage is slated to start in October.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has appeared before multiple congressional committees this month, assuring congressmen that HHS officials "understand that people have a lot of questions and are deploying as many resources as we can to answer those questions and get folks ready to engage in open enrollment on October 1st."

Part of the rollout of the exchanges, in fact, means dispatching "navigators" -- specially-trained people who will be able to help answer questions about the exchanges in their own communities.

When Congress passed a bill last month to fund the government for the rest of the year, it declined -- reportedly because of Republican opposition -- to give the Obama administration the extra $1 billion in funding it requested for the health care exchange rollout.

"We certainly take outreach and education very, very seriously," Sebelius said before the Senate Finance Committee last week. "It's one of the reasons that I think we were incredibly disappointed that our requests for additional outreach and education resources were not made available in the C.R. of 2013."

As McConnell wrote in his op-ed, "Republicans,meanwhile, are planning to continue the fight for full repeal. We've already had some notable success. Earlier this year, Democrats helped us repeal a key element of Obamacare known as the CLASS Act... The Senate last month voted overwhelmingly to repeal the law's job-killing medical device tax."

Meanwhile, Republicans on Thursday seized on another implementation problem to decry the law all together: If members of Congress and their staffs join the exchange system -- as mandated by the Affordable Care Act -- some low-paid staffers may not be able to afford their health care and subsequently have to quit their jobs.

It's unclear whether this will, in fact, be a problem -- if the relevant bureaucracies determine that the federal government can still make employer contributions to its employees' premiums, then purchasing health insurance on the exchanges shouldn't be a problem for congressional staffers. However, Politico reported Thursday that lawmakers were already considering "exempting" lawmakers and aides from the exchanges.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday said, "That's not going to happen."

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., similarly said, "There are not now, have never been, nor will there ever be any discussions about exempting members of Congress or Congressional staff" from provisions of the health care law.

"Senator Reid is committed to ensuring that all members of Congress and Congressional staff experience the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in exactly the same way as every other American," he said. "He believes that this is the effect of the legislation as written, and that therefore no legislative fix is necessary."

However, one Democratic aide with knowledge of discussion told CBS News that lawmakers are trying to ensure that congressional staffers will still get employer contributions. Republicans said this proves even Democrats don't like the law.

"The fact that Democratic leaders want to opt themselves out of the Obamacare exchanges shows that Sen. Baucus isn't the only one who realizes the President's healthcare law is a 'train wreck,'" Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. "The Speaker would like to see resolution of this problem, along with the other nightmares created by Washington Democrats' health law, which is why he supports full repeal."


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