Eric Swanson Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The Obama administration’s struggles to implement health care reform will probably dominate headlines over the next several months, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole said Tuesday.
“I do not think this is something that will stop with a website fix at the end of November,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “I hope they get it fixed; I think that’s a good thing. But I think you’re going to have bigger problems because I think the composition of the people that are signing up, from what little we can tell — it’s too soon to tell for sure — are not going to sustain the program.”
Cole touched on Obamacare and other issues facing Congress during a town hall meeting at the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce. About 35 people turned out for the event.
The federal government’s health care website, www.healthcare.gov, was supposed to make it easy for consumers to shop for insurance coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The botched rollout of HealthCare.gov has raised questions about whether administration officials failed to test the site properly before launching it in early October.
A series of technical problems with the site, including a security breach that was reported earlier this week, have plagued consumers trying to sign up for health insurance and embarrassed the White House.
That’s not the only public relations problem facing the Obama administration, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Insurance companies sent out millions of cancellation notices, often noting that the canceled plans fell short of the law’s coverage requirements.
Cole said the law’s biggest problems are not related to the website. For instance, he said, many people seeking health care coverage under the law are signing up for Medicaid, because the federal government expanded eligibility for that program. As a result, those consumers are not paying premiums into the system.
Cole noted that the law requires most Americans to carry health insurance by Jan. 1. But he added that many young people are not buying coverage because it could cost them approximately $250 a month, depending on the plan and other factors.
“Now, you could not do it, and you pay a fine of $95 on your taxes,” Cole said. “And $250 a month versus $95, and I can sign up whenever I’m sick. What kind of real incentive is there if you’re 25 to get on this program? I don’t see it.”
After touching on Obamacare, Cole moved to another subject: the partial government shutdown and budget talks.
A standoff over the budget, fueled by House Republicans’ efforts to defund or derail Obamacare, triggered the 16-day shutdown. The shutdown ended in mid-October, when Obama signed legislation to reopen the government and avoid a possible default on the nation’s debt.
The deal paved the way for another round of budget talks, as House and Senate lawmakers try to negotiate a spending plan.
Cole, who serves on the budget conference committee, said lawmakers have until Dec. 13 to reconcile the House and Senate budget proposals. He added that the House spending plan balances the budget in a decade, trims spending by $5.7 trillion and includes major reforms to Medicare and Medicaid without raising taxes. On the other hand, the Senate plan cuts about $1.8 trillion in federal spending, raises about $1 trillion in new taxes and includes approximately $270 billion in entitlement reforms.
“In other words, they are really far apart,” Cole said.
If lawmakers fail to agree on a budget by Jan. 15, the government will run out of money to fund its basic operations. That would trigger a second shutdown unless Congress acts.
Lawmakers also have to circle Feb. 7 on their calendars, because that’s the date when the government will exhaust its borrowing authority unless Congress raises the debt ceiling again.
Cole said the budget committee will come up a spending plan, but the final decision will rest with congressional leaders and the president.
“That committee will negotiate something, but I guarantee you the Republican appointees are going to talk to the guys that appointed them, and the Democratic appointees will talk to the people that appointed them,” he said. “And if the answer’s ‘No,’ then I doubt you’re going to come to an arrangement. So there needs to be a lot of talking and a lot of negotiating going on.”