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August 18. 2014 8:10PM

Target: Obamacare

Immigration, national security, foreign policy, the economy — remember when the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire was all about “Obamacare?”

Republicans running for their party’s nomination and the right to face U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in November have explored numerous other hot topics over the past two weeks.

And yet, the mid-term election question looms: Will the Affordable Care Act make or break this race?

The three most prominent Republican candidates, Scott Brown, Jim Rubens and Bob Smith, are trying to make it a decisive issue.

Smith refers to “Obamacare” as a kind of anti-American piece of legislation that is moving the country toward a single-payer, centralized health care bureaucracy.

Brown says it is also an economic issue, that business people are worried about the employer mandate to provide coverage.

“It’s not an American solution,” Rubens said. “It’s not consistent with fundamental American beliefs.”

Shaheen, in an interview last week, said the health care law is one of several important issues in the campaign. She said it needs to be worked on, not scuttled.

“It’s not some bogeyman that it’s been portrayed to be,” she said.

Brown, Rubens and Smith are three of 10 Republicans on the ballot in the state primary Sept. 9.

The other GOP candidates are: Gerard Beloin of Colebrook, Robert D’Arcy of Keene, Miro Dziedzie of Windham, Mark Farnham of Lebanon, Bob Heghmann of Wolfeboro, Walter Kelly of Lancaster, and Andy Martin of Manchester.

Not all of them want to repeal “Obamacare.” Heghmann, for example, is proposing a reform that involves restoring the “community health plan option,” which he says would allow people with plans under the marketplace exchange to stay with those plans as needed.

 

 

Health care remains a go-to topic for the three top candidates, but they have zeroed in on illegal immigration and foreign policy of late. They criticize President Barack Obama for the flood of illegal immigrant children spilling across the southern border. Each has portrayed Shaheen as a rubber stamp for the President. Smith, a former U.S. senator from Tuftonboro, says he is the true conservative in the race, and the only Republican with a track record of opposing abortion.

Rubens, a former state senator and businessman from Hanover, is trying to stake a claim as the Washington outsider.Brown, the former U.S. senator from Massachusetts who is now a resident of Rye, calls himself an “independent voice for New Hampshire.”

Brown says he was inspired to run for Senate from New Hampshire because of “Obamacare.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 40,262 Granite Staters enrolled in the Affordable Care Act in the first enrollment period, which concluded March 31, 2014.The government reports that 30,920 residents, or 77 percent of those enrolled, had some financial assistance in the form of tax credits.

Critics of “Obamacare” in New Hampshire point to lack of choice and access. (The President’s comment, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” is a common line at many GOP campaign events in New Hampshire.)

New Hampshire’s narrow insurer network, with just Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, aggravated enrollees, as 10 of the state’s 26 hospitals were excluded from the Anthem network

That will change in 2015. New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny announced earlier this year that consumers would have access to Anthem, Assurant Health, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care of New England, and two co-ops, Minuteman Health and Maine Community Health.

Shaheen said the Affordable Care Act would continue to improve and meet consumer needs.

“Do we need to keep working on it? Absolutely, like any other major program, like Medicare Part D — it took a while for that to get worked out and for people to see the difference that it made, and this is the same thing,” she said.

Shaheen said thousands of people with pre-existing conditions in the state can now get health care and seniors are getting help with their prescription drug coverage.

 

“Those people who want to repeal it have no plan to replace it,” Shaheen said. “Their plan is — let’s put people back at the mercy of insurance companies who are going to deny coverage if they have pre-existing conditions, who are going to put limits on their care, who are going to discriminate against women again. I don’t think that’s a system anybody wants to go back to.”

Rubens supports a “repeal and replace” option that makes use of “market forces, innovation and consumer choice.” Part of his plan proposes increasing access by creating more community health clinics, as well as an interstate market for insurance. Any replacement, he says, would not impose state or government mandates, and it would seek to lower costs while expanding access.

Smith said the law should be repealed to make way for health care reform that is free from government interference. He said states should be allowed to pursue their own market-based solution to meet their needs.Brown wants a full repeal, and he said he believes the coverage should be addressed at the state level. He notes that he has already voted to repeal “Obamacare,” when he served in the Senate from Massachusetts.

dtuohy@unionleader.com


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