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Attacking Obamacare without all the facts

By Bill McKee, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 13--Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers shared Garfield resident Debbie Brown's story with fellow lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday as an example of problems inherent in the Affordable Care Act.

Unfortunately for the congresswoman, Brown's very real problems have no apparent connection to Obamacare.

Brown, who recently found out her supplemental insurance carrier would be leaving Whitman County, wrote an email to her congresswoman, wondering if her troubles were being caused by the new health care laws.

"I sent her an email asking if anyone else was being affected in this way. I wanted to know what's happening with Whitman County, why I was losing my coverage," Brown said.

McMorris Rodgers then, after getting Brown's permission to tell her story, used it as ammunition.

She said Brown was one of countless Americans who had been "hurt by this law" and "recently lost her health insurance because of Obamacare."

But Brown's loss of coverage, according to her HUB International insurance agent, Ryan Focht, can't be directly attributed to the Affordable Care Act.

"What's happened is Asuris Northwest Health, a Regence BlueShield company, has pulled out of the Medicare Advantage market in Whitman County," Focht said. "I don't think you can attribute that to health care reform."

Melanie Collett, a McMorris Rodgers staff member, had no immediate response to questions about using Brown's story as an example of Obamacare failures.

Focht said he didn't know exactly why Asuris decided to pull out, but speculated it might have to do with the limited number of members in the county.

At 53, Brown is disabled and relies on Medicare to provide about 80 percent of her coverage.

She has had her supplemental insurance canceled every year for the past four years, and when she found out her current provider is withdrawing from Whitman County, she was understandably concerned -- the only remaining provider of supplemental insurance she has left to turn to wants nearly three times what she was paying before.

"There's another plan available, but it costs about $340 a month," Focht said. "With Asuris leaving Whitman County, her only option now is that plan."

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Focht said he believes what Brown is dealing with has more to do with being younger than 65 and on disability than with the new health care laws.

Medicare patients 65 or older, he said, are generally only having to pay about $175 per month for their supplemental insurance premiums.

Sadly, Brown's is not an isolated problem. Of his 60 customers, Focht said at least five are dealing with the same issue.

"There's a lot of people out there on disability. And for them, that 20 percent of their health care costs that aren't covered by Medicare can be considerable," he said.

Brown does, however, have one rather unorthodox option -- divorce.

"I was told at this point the only way I would qualify for extra help is divorce, because then our income would be separate," she said.

Because she's married, her level of income, combined with her husband's, makes her ineligible for Medicaid. If she were divorced that would no longer be the case.

Focht acknowledged that is the reality for many people.

"I think there are a lot of people having that conversation with their spouse, and I think that's pretty unfortunate," he said.

Bill McKee can be reached at (208) 883-4627, or by email to wmckee@dnews.com.

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(c)2013 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)

Visit the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho) at www.dnews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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