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The Oklahoman: Obamacare repeal could affect Oklahoma coverage rates

January 8, 2017
News Stories
The Oklahoman - Rick Green
Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation have long railed against the Affordable Care Act.
With a Republican in the White House on Jan. 20 and GOP majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, they will finally be able to help end the act, also known as Obamacare.
"It's time to move forward to repeal and replace Obamacare," Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said Wednesday after a procedural vote to begin the repeal process.
"It's time to focus on a future of a healthy America."
In the coming week, Senate Republicans plan to begin repeal efforts.
While there has long been opposition to the act among Republicans, there is no consensus on how to replace it.
Under the act, Oklahoma's uninsured rate has dropped from 18.9 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2015, which translates to 192,000 people gaining coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Also under the act, people won the right to stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26. About 29,000 young adults in Oklahoma have used this provision.
The act also prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
"As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it's important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act," said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell.
"Whether Oklahomans get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward."
Burwell also noted that the act ended yearly and lifetime limits on policies and requires that health plans cover preventive services at no extra cost.
While she stresses benefits of the law, critics focus on rising insurance premiums and limited insurance company participation.
"Oklahomans have seen firsthand the devastation caused by the impact of Obamacare," Lankford said. "Last year, the Obama administration announced a 25 percent increase in premiums across the nation.
"The news for our state was much worse. Oklahoma will see a rise of 76 percent with only one health insurer to offer plans through the federal exchange in 2017, which saw a 35 percent increase from the year before."
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said the effects of repealing Obamacare are not known.
"It is difficult to say with certainty what would happen in this situation as the actual repeal legislation has not yet been fully written," he said. "The current strategy involves repealing Obamacare quickly; however, a transition period to the Obamacare replacement will likely be necessary."
Cole said the effect on coverage rates also is unclear.
"I believe that looking at coverage rates is only one piece of whether one has 'health insurance,'" he said. "Yes, it's true that the uninsured rate has gone down; however, many of the policies people are forced to buy have exorbitant deductibles that will never be met, effectively leaving people uninsured.
"House Republicans are committed to developing a new health care system which addresses many of the same challenges that Obamacare attempted to deal with, but failed miserably, including increased access to health care by the uninsured population and lower premiums."
The cost of increased premium rates under Obamacare is limited for policy holders, because many receive substantial subsidies to cover these premiums. These subsidies would go away if Obamacare were repealed.
"While the subsidies may not exist in the same manner they do under Obamacare, many of the Republican plans focus on lowering costs through increased competition, a focus on patient-centered care, expanding of the use of Health Savings and Flexible Savings Accounts, all aimed at helping patients make the best health care decisions for themselves, not insurers, and not the government," Cole said.
Under Obamacare, unpopular provisions like the requirement that most Americans have health coverage, help allow insurance companies to offer popular provisions like being able to stay on parents' insurance to age 26 and the prohibition for coverage denial based on pre-existing conditions.
Still to be determined is how popular provisions can be retained if unpopular provisions are eliminated.
"Yes, that is one of the challenges facing the committees of jurisdiction who are responsible for writing replacement legislation; however, I am confident that the replacement bill will find a way to resolve these concerns," Cole said.