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In early March, Ohio State Representative Ron Young and Rep. Andy Thompson introduced a bill known as, “The Health Care Freedom Act,” (HCFA) that proposed a new line of defense against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or, Obamacare. The bill, when passed, will prohibit health insurance companies in Ohio from accepting any federal funding that would trigger penalties for employers or individuals who aren’t compliant with Obamacare. Wednesday, when the bill was brought up in committee, opposition arose; but not only from the expected side of the aisle. While the Democrats did balk at the bill, Republican Majority Floor Leader Barbara Sears also took issue with HCFA. One needn’t look too deep to understand why Sears wouldn’t want the HCFA to pass in Ohio. Not only has she received a substantial amount of financial contributions from the health care industry, she currently works at a health insurance provider and recently passed her own bill which helps implement Obamacare.
Representative Sears is currently serving her third term in Ohio and over the years has amassed nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from various members of the health care industry. In fact, her list of donors is a veritable who’s who of health care heavy hitters including: Humana, Merck & Co, Aetna, United Health Care, Johnson and Johnson and many more national players. When she’s not representing the people of Ohio (or the health care industry) in the House, she works as the Senior Vice President of Employee Benefits at Roemer Insurance, who's website refers to her as a “resource,” as well as an employee. Perhaps it was in the spirit of being a “resource” that led Sears to introduce HB 3, a bill that regulates the “navigators” established in Obamacare.
Navigators will be individuals tasked with helping citizens through the maze of Obamacare before they actually purchase insurance. According to the federal law, their duties consist of:
(A) conduct public education activities to raise awareness of the availability of qualified health plans;
(B) distribute fair and impartial information concerning enrollment in qualified health plans, and the availability of premium tax credits under section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and cost-sharing reductions under section 1402;
(C) facilitate enrollment in qualified health plans;
(D) provide referrals to any applicable office of health insurance consumer assistance or health insurance ombudsman established under section 2793 of the Public Health Service Act, or any other appropriate State agency or agencies, for any enrollee with a grievance, complaint, or question regarding their health plan, coverage, or a determination under such plan or coverage; and
(E) provide information in a manner that is culturally and linguistically appropriate to the needs of the population being served by the Exchange or Exchanges.
The law, which mandates navigators, specifically bars them from issuing health insurance and directs that funding for the new jobs must come from the state exchanges. The issue of navigators has been surprisingly absent from the news, considering the large amount of money states will have to come up with to comply with this aspect of Obamacare. California, notorious for their problems with debt, is slated to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to hire 21,000 navigators.
So why would a Republican propose a bill that seeks to further regulate a government created job that will cost the states untold amounts of money? It would appear that insurance brokers across the country are getting nervous about the prospect of competition from navigators and have been lobbying for stricter standards on them. One such group, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, has been lobbying nationwide and their Ohio affiliate has contributed financially to Rep. Sears’ campaigns since 2010. The passage of Sears’ bill restraining the navigators follows similar bills in Maine and Iowa. In Sears’ case, however, even setting aside the steep amount of money she has received from the health care industry, the fact that she works at an insurance agency that will benefit from her bill seems a conflict of interest.
Her motives become even more suspect when considering her follow-up of speaking out against the HCFA, a bill that will protect consumers against federal penalties for noncompliance with Obamacare. According to Sears, the HCFA violates the state constitution by preventing health insurance providers from selling a product. “If I pass a law that tells my carriers that if they accept any funding under (Obamacare)... if I comply in that area, my penalty is suspension of my ability to accept new enrollees in the plan,” she stated. Yet, as Rep. Young explained, the HCFA doesn’t limit insurance providers any more than the refusal by the state to enact its own exchange. Why would a member of the health insurance industry resist an effort to combat the broad-sweeping mandates of Obamacare? Does Sears really believe insurance companies won’t be able to sell their products without federal funding? Perhaps it is the case that she believes insurance companies care more about receiving federal money then the consumers they are supposed to be protecting. Considering her close ties to the industry, Sears may be, as she did in regulating navigators, representing the concerns of insurance providers instead of Ohioans.
The HCFA needs Rep. Sears support to continue to passage. If she is truly representing the people of Ohio and not the health insurance industry and herself, to back a law protecting her constituents makes logical sense. As the country counts down to Obamacare taking effect, all eyes will be on Ohio to lead the way out of the coming disaster.
Ask Representative Sears about her motives.