Pennsylvania Activists Defend Obamacare

Pennsylvania Activists Defend Obamacare

As Pennsylvanians prepared to adapt to President Obama’s massive new health care regime, supporters of the new law at a Pennsylvania Health Access Network conference held in Harrisburg emphasized the benefits they believe the program will provide, accused opponents of distorting the plan’s likely effects, and urged consumers to apply for new taxpayer-funded subsidies.

The comments were made in response to audience questions about how small businesses will have to respond to the new federal regulatory structure.

Accusations of Misinformation

Valerie Arkoosh, president of the National Physicians Alliance, a supporter of the legislation, detailed the new plan, its tax structure, and how it will affect physicians and patients. She accused opponents of the measure of distorting its ramifications, described the regulatory system as more “standardized,” and claimed the law would result in federal deficit savings.

“There’s just a lot of misinformation out there,” Arkoosh said at the April conference. “For people who don’t have a lot of knowledge about how health policy works, it can certainly feel a little overwhelming. I think many people have questions and concerns.”

A recent Rasmussen Reports poll showed 57 percent of Americans oppose the controversial plan, and 63 percent believe it will increase, not decrease, the deficit. A Quinnipiac University poll of Pennsylvania residents found 52 percent opposed the Obama health care plan, with only 37 percent in support.

Urged to Apply for Subsidies

Katherine Howitt, a representative of activist group Community Catalyst, emphasized the importance of applying for taxpayer funded subsidies in order to maximize the state’s share of federal tax money.

“When you aggregate all those Pennsylvanians getting all those subsidies, Pennsylvania will see $14.6 billion coming in, in the first five years of the Exchange, in premium and cost-sharing subsidies,” Howitt said. “And that’s all going to be paid for by the federal government.”

Small Business Fines, Credits

According to Howitt, small businesses which cannot afford to purchase health insurance for their employees will be able to apply for tax credits.

“It’s a complicated formula,” said Howitt. “You’re not required to provide coverage to your employees, but if you don’t provide coverage to your employees and one of your employees goes on to access these subsidies, then you owe a fine.”

At most, the tax credit would offset 35 percent of health insurance costs. Howitt said there is also a penalty if the employer offers coverage but it costs more than 9.5 percent of the employees’ income.

Cost Still an Issue

The conference included workshops on health care quality controls and organizing for further reform, but presenters spent little time dealing with the costs of the new entitlements and subsidies to Pennsylvania consumers. According to Shelley Bain, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, the Commonwealth is facing a limited amount of resources for all these new programs, and an increasing number of applicants.

“This plan is not going to cover every uninsured individual in Pennsylvania,” said Bain. “We all know that.”

Darwyyn Deyo (darwyyn@paindependent.com) writes from Pennsylvania.