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Think tank says RI should scrap health care exchange

July 11, 2012

Two weeks after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Obamacare health reforms, a conservative think tank says Rhode Island should scrap the heath care exchange it is building to implement the new law and opt out of the Medicaid expansion program that the law calls for but that the high court ruled is voluntary for states.
Claims to the contrary by the White House and Democrats in congress — as well as Ocean State political leaders — notwithstanding, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity (CFP) contends that Obamacare, formally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), will expand the size, cost, and scope of state government. The center says it will result in “more regulation, less freedom and lost privacy.”
“The expansion of health insurance is not free and our state simply cannot afford an expanded entitlement program,” Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the CFP, said in a written statement. “Rhode Island can save jobs as well as hundreds of millions of budget dollars by choosing not to implement some of its optional provisions.
“There is a major misconception,” Stenhouse added, “that the costs of the newly insured will be covered 100% by federal funding. This is not true and our state's fragile economy cannot absorb any more expense. Nor can we afford to lose any more jobs; we should protect our businesses from the job-killing employer mandate.
“Haven't we learned yet that chasing federal dollars often ends up costing our state in the long run?” he asked.
The report states that, “Despite its lofty claims, PPACA will not lower health care and insurance costs and will do nothing to increase the supply of quality healthcare services in our state.
The law will also lead to new federal and state taxes and cost the economy even more jobs.
Among what the policy statement calls the “multiple negative ramifications” of implementing Obamacare are:
• Unfunded budget costs that Rhode Island does not have the capacity to absorb
• Increased dependency on government for health care and other services
• Job-killing employer mandates and penalties that would otherwise be avoided
• Government intrusion on privacy in the highly personal areas of healthcare and family finances
Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts issued a statement Tuesday that said, “The governor and I are fully committed to pressing ahead with implementation of the health benefits exchange and other health reforms to improve access to and affordability of quality health coverage for all Rhode Islanders. We will continue to welcome input from diverse perspectives to inform a process that has been open, transparent and collaborative to benefit Rhode Island families, small businesses and their employees.”
Christine Ferguson, the recently appointed director of the health benefits exchange, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman in the governor’s office said Chafee was not available to comment on Tuesday.
Rhode Island’s health benefits exchange, hailed locally as a cutting-edge leader in implementing the health care reform law, is already controversial.
A local anti-abortion group, joining with more than two dozen state legislators, have mounted a court challenge to the exchange because it was unilaterally put in place by Gov. Lincoln Chafee by way of an executive order after an attempt to create it by legislation failed in a squabble about language covering payments for abortions.
The suit claims that the executive order violated the constitution, but Chafee said at the time that waiting for legislation could cost the state tens of millions of federal dollars that it ultimately received to organize the exchange, which officials hope to have up and running by the January 1, 2014 deadline in the law.
CFP recommends that the governor’s executive order should be repealed and replaced with “patient-centered, market-based reforms” such as applying for a State Innovation Waiver to exempt the state from provisions of the Obamacare law, including the exchanges, allowing interstate sales by private health insurers and allowing insurers to “opt out” of current state mandates for health coverage as long as they “openly display” the mandates they won’t cover.
For good measure, the center wants an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit the federal government “from ever requiring Rhode Island residents to buy health insurance” and to pass a resolution calling for an amendment to the federal constitution to invalidate the Obamacare law.
The report concludes that, “For all of this expense and intrusion, the state will not likely experience any reduction in the overall cost of health care, and Rhode Islanders will likely see the quality and availability of the care that they receive worsening… with wait times likely to increase for family physicians, and with greater portions of the population accessing subsidies for premiums and other expenses, the savings for which Rhode Islanders are being asked to sacrifice privacy and self-reliance may never materialize.”
Further information about the report is available at the health care page of the Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s website, www.rifreedom.org/healthcare-reform

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