Herald-Leader Editorial

Health law needs time to take root; Why would McConnell cancel help for old, young uninsured?

Why would mcconnell cancel help for old, young, uninsured?

November 17, 2013 

When Sen. Mitch McConnell summoned reporters to his Louisville campaign headquarters last week to denounce the Affordable Care Act, he was asked which parts, if any, are worth keeping.

McConnell insisted the law is a "monstrosity" that should be repealed, "root and branch."

His response should make Kentuckians wonder:

■ Does McConnell really want seniors to have to choose between medicine and food?

■ What does he have against the 3 million young adults who have gained health insurance through their parents' plans?

■ And why is he so dismissive of 600,000-plus uninsured Kentuckians — and the enormous expense shifted onto others when they can't get medical care until it becomes more complicated and costly?

McConnell's rants against what he calls Obamacare are purely political. He's hoping to capitalize on President Barack Obama's unpopularity in Kentucky by linking Democratic candidate Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to the president's signature achievement. He's also hoping to mollify Republican primary voters who preferred a government default to perceived government overreach.

McConnell's alternatives (interstate insurance sales, high-risk pools, employer associations and reforms to be named later) are Republican boilerplate.

They fall far short of what Kentuckians were gaining from Obama's reforms, even before the Oct. 1 opening of kynect.com. which has been enrolling McConnell's constituents at a rate of 1,000 a day.

Talking to reporters, McConnell made no mention of the senior citizens and disabled individuals who depend on Medicare and who were among the first to be helped by the Affordable Care Act.

Before reform, Medicare enrollees who exceeded $2,850 in drug costs had to pay the full price of their medicines until reaching $4,450 in annual out-of-pocket costs. Falling into the so-called "donut hole" forced some on fixed incomes to choose between filling their prescriptions and being able to afford groceries and utilities.

The Affordable Care Act provides prescription drug discounts to enrollees who fall into the "donut hole," which last year saved 72,391 Kentuckians $51 million, an average of $703 each.

Medicare coverage for prescription drugs will expand until the hole is closed in 2020 — unless McConnell gets his way and eliminates the reforms. McConnell also would deprive 485,843 Kentuckians of free services they received last year thanks to the law's elimination of Medicare deductibles and co-pays for preventive care.

The law's cost controls and efficiencies will also extend Medicare's solvency.

Ripping out the health care law would end parents' ability to cover children until age 26, as more than 48,000 Kentuckians are doing.

The only glint of compassion from McConnell was for the 280,000 Kentuckians who were informed by insurers that they must get new policies because their old ones don't meet the new standards, a requirement that Obama last week suspended.

Maybe the Senate Republican leader has someone to handle this chore for him, but signing up for a new policy is routine. Most of us are accustomed to annual enrollment when we choose a health plan that is almost never the same as our current plan.

Obama botched the insurance exchange rollout and should never have promised people could keep junk policies. He deserves criticism on both counts. But the reforms can't be judged until they have been in place a few years.

Kentucky's exchange is working but it will take time to enroll all who lack preventive care and even more time to improve Kentucky's desultory health status.

McConnell should spend a day with one of the navigators who are listening to his constituents and helping them secure health care coverage, many for the first time or at a lower cost. He might not need a health plan to discover he has a heart.

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