Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 8, 2013

Affordable options?

Obamacare questions must be answered

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Ready or not, the new Affordable Care Act law kicks in starting Oct. 1. And unfortunately, new questions continue to arise about President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, adding to the widespread confusion already out there about the new rules.

Now we are being told that citizens in some counties or localities in Southwest Virginia may be limited to a single health care plan. That means they won’t have a lot — or perhaps any — options when it comes to selecting a plan under the state’s health care exchange. But wait. Some lawmakers are disputing this latest report. Republicans say it is correct. Democrats say it is wrong. Why are we not surprised?

But we are running out of time to debate the new law. It doesn’t matter if you call it Obamacare or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it’s still the law of the land barring any highly unforeseen surprises between now and Oct. 1. And considering that Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have now voted nearly 40 times to repeal the new law without success, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act seems all but inevitable. Of course, some GOP lawmakers are now talking about a government shutdown as a way to block funding the new law, but such a move would be a very risky gamble by Republicans and it would face certain opposition in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

The simple fact of the matter is we need answers to the many questions that are still out there about the Affordable Care Act, and we need them now. Will qualifying citizens of Southwest Virginia be limited to just one health care plan, or will they have options? What counties or localities in Southwest Virginia could be limited to just one health care plan?

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., believes many in his district could be limited to a single plan, although he warns that the new health care law is a “moving target” that changes from day to day.

However, according to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., that’s not the case. Warner’s office says an Associated Press report stating that some in Southwest Virginia could be limited to a single health plan is “incorrect or incomplete.” Warner’s office says that even though there is only one exchange so far, state regulators are still evaluating proposals from four other potential providers. When will a decision be made as to whether those additional providers will or will not serve Southwest Virginia?

If lawmakers in Washington don’t know what is going on, how are we supposed to understand the new law?

Also of concern is the administration’s push to have people register and purchase health insurance plans online. Most folks will be able to do this, but in the coalfield counties of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, there are still a lot of low-income citizens who lack access to high-speed Internet. And some folks — quite frankly — don’t like using a computer for online transactions. The online application process also seems to be opening the door for scammers, who are already hard at work trying to illegally collect bank accounts and Social Security numbers from citizens who are confused about the new law. Will there be any local offices where citizens can apply for a health care plan in person? Some folks prefer face-to-face contact over using a telephone or computer.

We can fight, bicker and agree to disagree all day over the new law or we can try to figure it out. After all, time is running out for folks who don’t currently have insurance. They will have to begin enrolling in plans under the health exchange come Oct. 1. And beginning Jan. 1, 2014, most Americans will be required to have health insurance or face a fine from the federal government.

So will folks in Southwest Virginia who qualify for the state’s health care exchange have options? Or will they have only one health care plan to choose from? It not that difficult a question. So what are we waiting on? Someone — Warner, Griffith or U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. — better figure it out soon, and give their constituents back home a definitive answer.