Montana News
5:49 pm
Mon January 6, 2014

Daines gets an earful from Obamacare skeptics

Jim Smith with the Montana Independent Bankers (right) speaks to Congressman Steve Daines about his concerns about the Affordable Care Act during a Monday roundtable in Helena.
Credit Dan Boyce
Hear the radio version of this story from "Montana Evening Edition"

Montana Congressman Steve Daines held a roundtable discussion Monday to discuss negative impacts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“My objective here today is to learn and listen,” Daines told the group gathered at the Montana Chamber of Commerce Building in Helena.

Daines heard from small business owners who complained of higher insurance rates stemming from mandated changes to policies. Another woman said her planned kidney transplant was put on hold as she navigated from her old insurance plan to a new one as a result of the law.

Smaller private insurers also told Daines they felt they were being legislated out of existence by the new law. Gene Schadt is the Director of Operations for the Montana Contractors Association Health and Retirement Trusts. His non-profit organization operates an independent, self-funded insurance plan for about 7,000 employees of 55 MCA member companies. Schadt said his trusts are being hit with new fees this year from the ACA totaling what he expects will be more than $1 million dollars in 2014. These fees largely support the government healthcare programs Medicaid and Medicare as well as private health insurance companies operating on the Affordable Care Act exchanges who give plans to low income people. In Montana, those companies on the exchanges are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-Op. They will pay the fees as well, but will re-coup some of those costs by being on the exchanges.

“But self-funded entities like the MCA Trusts will only pay in. We will not have any right to draft money back out of this for anything,” Schadt said. “So these are true subsidies of other plans that we are forced to pay into.”

Schadt said the trusts do have large cash reserves and will be able to pay the bill this year. What the new fees will do to insurance rates in the future, he could not say.

General Counsel for the Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Christina Goe attended the roundtable to gather information. The Commissioner’s office regulates the state’s insurance industry. Goe said the discussion did not represent the whole story of the ACA in Montana.

“We have many stories of people getting coverage for the first time when they were previously denied coverage or they’re getting coverage at a much lower rate,” Goe said.

When asked why the roundtable discussion did not include people happy with the Affordable Care Act, Congressman Daines said his office receives hundreds and hundreds of letters about Obamacare. He said those letters do come in both in support and opposition of the law.

“We always want to seek a balanced view, I can just tell you though. The feedback we’re receiving many more Montanans are concerned with Obamacare than supportive of it,” Daines said.