Capitol Notebook

In Obamacare, we can all feel like we’re lucky

By Bob Mercer

State Capitol Bureau

Here in South Dakota, state government is doing as little as possible to assist our citizens who are interested in registering for the new federal health-insurance coverage.

There’s no hot link on the www.sd.gov main webpage. If you happen to guess right, you can find one on the main page for the Department of Social Services (www.dss.sd.gov).

Maybe I don’t watch or listen to the right programs, but I haven’t noticed a public service announcement either.

The federal link is www.healthcare.gov.

The assistance and marketing roles have been spread out regional organizations which specialize in helping the poor.

That makes sense, in a way – but the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare isn’t aimed at the people with the least money.

It’s intended to help working-age people who aren’t covered by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Everybody is supposed to have health insurance no later than March 31, 2014.

For many, buying the required coverage will mean running up credit-card balances, or no longer making hundreds of dollars in other purchases every month, or some combination.

The rates will be subsidized, based on a person’s income, through federal tax credits.

But the prices still seem steep, especially if a person isn’t paying $200 or $400 or $600 or more already each month for health insurance.

Our state government’s leaders don’t want anything to do with Obamacare. They were among officials from some two dozen states that sued two years ago trying to stop it.

They generally lost, except states now can’t be required to go along with federal Medicaid expansion. Whether to expand Medicaid here will be debated in the 2014 legislative session.

One statement might say it all for state government’s hands-off role: “He believes PPACA is unconstitutional and should be repealed.”

That is the summary of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s position. It’s in the 2012 final report of a task force that studied whether South Dakota should operate the health insurance exchange that each state must have.

The governor ultimately decided to let the federal government run the exchange for South Dakota. At least 30 states chose that route.

President Obama’s administration wasn’t ready for the Oct. 1 start-up of registration. The www.healthcare.gov website didn’t receive sufficient testing. New experts have been contracted to make repairs.

The registration deadline is five months away. The question now is whether state government should step up and do more to let people know.

Unfortunately, ignoring Obamacare doesn’t make it go away. Shutting down the federal government for 16 days didn’t make it go away. A federal lawsuit didn’t make it go away.

There are so many pieces to the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that we can’t know how they’ll work and whether there needs to be fixes.

But I know this. There were times in my life when I had zero health-insurance coverage. I wasn’t always lucky.

A few months ago I suffered a pulmonary embolism. I had insurance. I was lucky.

Now it’s the federal law. So why not help everyone get registered?

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