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Jane Ahlin, Published January 09 2011

Ahlin: Common sense, peace of mind in health reform

No question Republicans won big in November touting the repeal of health care reform. So who are those constituents excited to turn the clock back and embrace the unsustainable increases in health care spending that prompted the need for reform in the first place?

We know it isn’t the American Medical Association or the AARP because both those groups supported Obama’s reform legislation.

It’s unlikely the parents and their young adult children who with reform can be insured under family policies until age 26 are complaining. (According to an article by Ryan Johnson for the Grand Forks Herald, that affects more than “2,600 young adults in North Dakota and 11,400 in Minnesota.”)

Then, too, it’s hard to believe senior citizens on Medicare, who without reform would have to come up with co-pays for standard preventive procedures such as mammograms and colonoscopies, are against reform – a number according to Johnson that includes “106,000 seniors in North Dakota and 747,000 in Minnesota.”

He also reports “repealing the law means 3.5 million Minnesotans and 403,000 North Dakotans who rely on private coverage again would be faced with lifetime limits set by insurance companies.” Surely nobody wants that or for “pre-existing conditions” or chronic illnesses to allow companies to end coverage.

Could it be that by hammering away on Obamacare and “socialized medicine” and “death panels,” the Republicans garnered support for a repeal nobody really wants? (End-of-life counseling had nothing to do with “death panels.” But the Republican governor of Arizona and her political cohorts nixing Medicaid funds for lifesaving transplants? Now that’s a death panel.) More to the point, as election rhetoric dies away and reality sets in, is there any chance that the take-no-prisoners ideology of the new Congress will give way to common sense?

No matter how reform is sliced and diced, facts do not support repeal. Quite the opposite, as is evidenced by the effect of health care reform on small businesses, an effect that has surprised (and pleased) insurance providers and ought to thrill small-business proponents on both sides of the political aisle.

In a late December article for the Los Angeles Times, Noam N. Levey highlighted the unexpected significant phenomena “of small businesses … signing up to give their workers health benefits, a sign of potential progress for the nation’s battered health care system.”

For example, “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, the largest insurer in the Kansas City, Mo., area, is reporting a 58 percent jump in the number of small businesses buying insurance since April, the first full month after the legislation was signed into law.” The dramatic change is attributed to the new tax credit passed as part of health care reform, which translates into “a discount of as much as 35 percent for very small companies with low payrolls.”

And it isn’t only Kansas. Since reform passed last spring, a Minnesota company, “UnitedHealth Group Inc., … (has) added 75,000 new customers who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees.” Insurance companies in California and Maryland also have seen significant increases, and companies in other states expect increases when their numbers are totaled.

In other words, reform is doing for small business what it was designed to do. (Note: It also underscores the ethics of “mom and mop shops” whose owners always have wanted to offer their few employees health insurance but couldn’t afford to do so. Now that they can, they do.)

Health care reform isn’t perfect, but it is off to a good start. Reportedly, the upcoming Republican vote to repeal it will be symbolic. But the Republican pledge as stated by Rep. Fred Upton, who will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to “go after this (health care reform) bill piece by piece” is a real threat. That is, unless we let legislators know they weren’t elected to defy reason; they weren’t elected to take away our peace of mind.

Ahlin, Fargo, is a regular contributor.