Ohio Health Care Freedom Act Tabled By Republicans

Recently I reported on Ohio Republican Representative Barbara Sears’ failing to support The Health Care Freedom Act (HCFA) bill that would help defend Ohioans from Obamacare penalties.  Currently the chances of the HCFA being considered for an additional hearing are weakening, as it has not been listed on the committee schedule.  

However, Rep. Sears did choose to respond to my article; but not to me and not proactively.  Blogger Maggie Thurber, who has formerly worked with Sears, reached out to Sears for comment after my post angered Tea Party activists who were unaware of Sears’ actions.  While her response is too lengthy to post in full, much of it quoting language from the applicable bills and laws, Sears’ defense of her voting record is worthy of reaction.  I reached out to Sears, as she expressed interest in me doing so, and have included her response to me as well.

To begin, Sears states: 

The following are my thoughts regarding several issues discussed in Breeanne Howe’s article. First, it’s always disappointing when someone chooses to make inferences both personal and professional without taking the time to look at facts or do even the minimum amount of research.

I appreciate that you reached out to me for some background. I have tried to summarize my comments in order of the article not to infer that the article is remotely creditable [sic] but to simply to review and comment process.

First I’d like to thank the representative for taking the time to respond to my article,  even though she didn’t find it at all credible.  I’d also like to give reassurance that my post is well-researched, though one might not appreciate the facts presented.  I have offered my apology for not reaching out to Representative Sears for comment prior to this post, certainly no offense was meant; I reported based on the facts on the ground.

After dismissing the facts in my article as inaccurate, Sears went on; not to offer correction, but to restate her prior positions on the state constitutional amendment previously passed in Ohio, her reason for not supporting the HCFA (HB 91) and her bill, HB 3, which focuses on regulating navigators.  

It is the state constitutional amendment, the Healthcare Freedom Amendment, that Sears points to as the reason she believes she cannot support the HCFA. According to the representative:

It seems illogical to push legislation that would work towards the destruction of our private healthcare marketplace. I have yet to hear a workable argument that suggests that HB 91 doesn’t violate our Constitution.

The Healthcare Freedom Constitutional Amendment passed by 66% of Ohio and in all 88 counties in Ohio states:

• Section 21 (A) No federal, state, or local law or rule shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in a health care system. 

• Section 21 (B) No federal, state, or local law or rule shall prohibit the purchase or sale of health care or health insurance. 

• Section 21 (C) No federal, state, or local law or rule shall impose a penalty or fine for the sale or purchase of health care or health insurance.

I could suggest that if we pass HB 91, then we violate Section 21(b) and Section 21(c) in that we will be prohibiting both the sale of health insurance and an individual’s right to purchase health insurance by imposing law and rules that would be specifically used to punish a carrier should they accept any remuneration, credit, or subsidy as provided in the PPACA.

As I pointed out in my original article, and Sears reaffirmed in her response, Ohio has refused to enact a state exchange.  Therefore, as noted by HB 91 co-sponsor Rep Young, “the HCFA legislation puts the same amount of limitation on these providers as the state refusing to run its own exchange.”  HCFA doesn’t limit the purchase or sale of health insurance, it simply limits the funding a health insurance company can receive from the federal government. Further, the HCFA reaffirms the constitutional amendment by prohibiting insurance companies from accepting federal funds that would result in penalty taxes for consumers; that certainly sounds like an added protection for the citizens of Ohio.  

On the subject of Sears’ bill, HB 3, and funding for the navigators, Sears stated: 

First I would like to point out to Ms. Howe, and would have if she would have contacted me, that the State of Ohio is not offering a State Exchange. The State of Ohio is not hiring nor are we paying Navigators. A quick read of the law clearly states that: “(6) FUNDING.—Grants under this subsection shall be made from the operational funds of the Exchange and not Federal funds received by the State to establish the Exchange”. We are expecting hundreds of additional pages of Federal regulation soon regarding the role of the Navigator.

In Ohio, the Federal Government will be managing the Exchange and funding will come from the Exchange. Carriers that choose to sell on the Exchange will be charged a tax that will create the funding. Ms. Howe’s statement that “California is slated to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to hire 21,000 navigators” is consistent with the fact California is opting for a State run Exchange; Ohio is not!

So, as Ohio is not running a state exchange, a fact which again I should point out was stated in my original article, exactly where will funding come from for them? According to the Washington Post, “Over the short term, some workers may be funded by federal grants, state budgets or private money.  But over the longer term, most of the costs are to be covered by the new health-care marketplaces, called exchanges, being set up in every state.”  Instead of legislating the regulation of the navigators, it would appear the larger issue is whether Ohio will even have them considering the state would be forced to pay for them.    

Finally, Sears went on to defend her position as an employee of an insurance company:

It is surprising to believe that Ms. Howe would believe that we should work to serve Ohio and our district only on committees that we have little understanding of the issues. Clearly, if we are looking at insurance issues, someone with an insurance background would be helpful; as legal issues come up we look at our attorneys….

Ms. Howe writes “the fact that she works at an insurance agency that will benefit from her bill seems a conflict of interest.” I would refer Ms. Howe again to HB 3 which states “(3) The superintendent shall not certify as a navigator, and shall revoke any existing navigator certification of, any individual, organization, or business entity that is receiving financial compensation, including monetary and in-kind compensation, gifts, or grants, on or after October 1, 2013, from an insurer offering a qualified health benefit plan through an exchange operating in this state.” 

We very specifically drafted the bill to prevent someone from working as either a licensed insurance agent or a navigator and receiving a financial gain from both the exchange and qualified health benefit plans. Quite frankly, I ensured that I could not gain from HB 3.  I suppose that I could quit my position as a licensed insurance agent and work as a navigator whose expected income will be between $10 and $14 dollar hourly rate, however I will suggest that is not likely.

To address the comparison of lawyers who serve as public officials, yes, their expertise can work well in the design of laws.  However, it is not generally the case that they are designing laws for their industry to protect them against imaginary threats from those who aren’t lawyers.  As I originally stated, Obamacare specifically bars navigators from issuing health insurance.  The direction of HB 3 to ensure navigators aren’t compensated by insurance companies is redundant, as Obamacare covers that provision as well.  So once again, if not helping to protect the concerned health care industry that has spent almost $1 million on Sears’ elections, why include unnecessary language in HB 3?

As for the idea of Sears quitting her job and becoming a navigator, I’m not sure where that even comes from; especially since she has reassured her company and others like it that navigators won’t be stealing from their coffers.

I appreciate Rep Sears’ efforts to explain her positions, though I continue to respectfully disagree.  Sears may have reservations about the HCFA, but with support for it found among her constituents, I believe she should reconsider the merits of the bill.  It is a powerful position the representative has found herself in and it is very unfortunate to see that the HCFA has not yet received an additional hearing.

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