A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Build upon what works instead of breaking our health care system altogether

By U.S. Rep. Andy Barr
Special to KyForward

As the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote on Obamacare in March of 2010, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “[w]e have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it.”

Now, almost three and a half years later, Kentucky’s working families are still trying to understand this 2,700-page law, but they are already beginning to feel its devastating effects. Sold as a means of improving access to health care while reducing its costs, Obamacare has done precisely the opposite, while continuing to destroy jobs and increase our federal budget deficit.

Ms. Pelosi’s statement speaks volumes regarding why it’s necessary to fully repeal Obamacare before we can achieve genuine and lasting health care reform. Obamacare arose from a “Washington knows best” mentality, which believes that “top down,” federally imposed solutions are the only answer for our nation’s challenges – and it shows what happens when legislators and bureaucrats become enamored with their own grand schemes without asking for input from the people who will endure the consequences.

That’s why I believed it was so important to bring the House subcommittee responsible for investigating Obamacare’s impact to Kentucky. Congressman Phil Roe, M.D., (TN-01), Chairman of the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee of the Education and Workforce Committee, held an official field hearing in Lexington to examine the health care challenges facing workers and employers in the Bluegrass State. I was glad to bring this official hearing to the Sixth District as part of my accessibility initiative.

Fellow Kentucky Congressmen Brett Guthrie and John Yarmuth also attended the hearing where Kentuckians described the harmful consequences Obamacare is imposing on workplaces. The subcommittee heard from regional small business leaders, health care advocates and other citizens – hopefully returning to Washington with a better sense of the challenges and imperatives ahead.

Lexington’s Joe Bologna highlighted the uncertainty that Obamacare has created for small business owners like him, who are already doing everything they can to provide affordable health care coverage for their employees. John Humkey, president and founder of Employee Benefit Associates, observed that Obamacare is leading to “significant premium increases that will force employers in Kentucky” and elsewhere “to radically change the way they provide benefits to their employees or in extreme cases . . . drop health insurance altogether.”

John McPhearson, who serves as chief executive officer for Lectrodryer in Richmond, testified that Obamacare arbitrarily picks “winners and losers,” with some citizens having to pay for the health care of others without regard to healthy lifestyle choices or other conduct that impacts health care costs. Mr. McPhearson also warned that Obamacare’s mandated health care plans could become “the de facto plans offered by the health care [insurance] companies,” causing “overall coverage [to] deteriorate” for Lectrodryer’s employees.

The evidence from across America shows that the concerns expressed during our hearing are not unique. Confronted with new costs and regulations they cannot afford in a fragile economy, our nation’s small businesses have put any plans to expand and hire new workers indefinitely on hold, while cutting the hours and pay of current employees to avoid the expensive coverage requirements which Obamacare places on employers having 50 or more full-time employees.

Had Obamacare’s authors consulted people like Joe Bologna, John Humkey and John McPhearson, they would have realized that putting people out of work is no way to improve access to health care in Kentucky. What happens to those who fall between the cracks – people who lose their jobs, but aren’t eligible for the federal subsidies, which are supposed to help them buy health insurance? They pay a tax!

We heard testimony during our hearing about the obstacles Kentuckians endure in obtaining quality health care. Whether these problems arise from a preexisting condition or a family’s inability to afford insurance, we have a moral duty to fix them. Yet, we can do so most effectively by engaging the feedback of consumers, doctors, employers, insurance experts, and hospital administrators instead of relying on ideological theories. This approach involves incremental and systematic change instead of a massive overhaul – but doesn’t it make sense to build upon what works instead of breaking our health care system altogether?

Common sense measures such as authorizing insurance providers to compete across state lines and allowing small businesses to form association health plans could significantly decrease premiums, while supplementing tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance with supplemental individual and family tax credits would make that insurance more affordable. Medical liability reform and the expansion of Medical Savings Accounts would help bring spiraling health care costs under control; the latter by placing patients back in charge of their non-catastrophic health care bills.


You deserve a chance to participate in health care reform, instead of having to “find out what’s in it” after the fact.

Andy Barr is the U.S. representative for Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District.

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