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Published March 22 2012

Two years later, health reform still divides

FARGO – Two years ago, President Barack Obama signed his controversial health care reform act into law, but it remains as divisive as ever.

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments next week about the measure – including a legal challenge to requiring Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.

Republicans still clamor for a repeal of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, while Democrats want to defend some of the law’s provisions but agree its flaws need to be rectified.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp, who in 2010 was outspoken in her support of the legislation, said Thursday, “I’ve often said that it’s not a perfect law.”

“There are some good things in the health care law that make sense, and there are some serious problems that make no sense at all,” she said.

Heitkamp and Democratic U.S. House candidate Pam Gulleson said the law’s benefits include more funding for North Dakota hospitals, tax breaks for small businesses, improved access to preventative care and guaranteed coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

However, Heitkamp said: “There are some serious problems with the law like the federal mandate requiring you to buy health insurance and way too much red tape for small businesses.”

“Right now, there are too many Democrats in Washington who won’t admit there are problems with the law and too many Republicans, like my opponent, who want to throw it all out,” she said, referencing Republican Rep. Rick Berg, who’s also seeking to fill the seat of Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Berg was among the Republican majority in the U.S. House who passed a bill last year to repeal the health care reform act. It died after no action in the Senate, but Berg remains a strong advocate for repealing the law piecemeal as specific issues arise in the House.

“Two years have passed since Obamacare was forced through Congress behind closed doors, and everything we’ve seen unfold since then is exactly what North Dakotans feared in the first place: more government overreach, higher costs and decreased access for our seniors,” Berg said.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Duane Sand agreed, saying, “We need to repeal and start from scratch. We need to re-examine how we treat health care from the bottom up and create a consumer-centric system.”

Republicans in the U.S. House race echoed similar frustrations about the law’s growing costs and its inability to address problems in health care.

“Some of the things we warned about have come to fruition,” candidate Kevin Cramer said.

Brian Kalk, Kim Koppelman and Bette Grande struck more somber notes on the law’s two-year anniversary.

“This anniversary is nothing to celebrate,” Grande said in a statement. “The date must be remembered each year as a stark reminder of the threat of socialism.”

Kalk said, “This anniversary brings no comfort or hope to the American people.”

Koppelman called today “one of the saddest days in American government because this represents a huge power grab in Washington, one of the most breathtaking power-grabs in government history.”

Libertarian House candidate Eric Olson said health care isn’t among the federal government’s constitutional powers, and it should be left to the states.

“The issue here is, it’s not making health care better,” Olson said. “This is a game being played with how medical products and services get paid for.”

Republican House candidate DuWayne Hendrickson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Gulleson, the Democrats’ U.S. House candidate, said she wants some measures in the law revised but a full repeal goes too far.

Along with the benefits Heitkamp cited, Gulleson also defended the Frontier Amendment, which she said brought more equitable Medicare reimbursements to North Dakota hospitals.

“Health care reform needs to be a lot more about keeping costs down,” Gulleson said.

The GOP congressional candidates agree, though, that even if the 2010 law is repealed, some sort of reform to the health care industry is still needed.

“We can do a much better job at reform by capturing the forces of competition and choice rather than setting up layers of bureaucracy,” GOP U.S. House candidate Shane Goettle said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541