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Randy's Ramblings: Health care security is in the balance in this election

This election is personal for me.

Mitt Romney and the Republican candidates for Congress have made repeal of the Affordable Care Act a central theme of their campaigns. And that is endangering the health care security of some of my loved ones.

The love of my life has a pre-existing condition that, if she were to lose her employer-provided health plan, would make it extremely expensive, if not impossible, to buy insurance without the implementation of what has come to be known as Obamacare.

Starting in 2014, no plan will be allowed that denies coverage to a person because of a pre-existing condition, and the premium the individual pays will be the same as for everyone else covered by the plan.

The lifetime limits on coverage that many cancer and heart patients run into disappear in 2014, too, although neither of those are my sweetheart's issue.

Also starting in 2014, individuals who don't have access to affordable coverage through an employer or government program will be able to buy insurance through an American Health Benefit Exchange. The exchanges will be those marketplaces that we capitalists like.

The coverage will still be expensive, but premiums will be subsidized on a sliding scale for those making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. The highest premium anyone in that group will pay is 9.5 percent of their income.

For us, it means we can retire early if we want to -- and will have a safety net should our employer-provided insurance disappear.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman in the Oct. 4 New York Times said 89 million Americans with pre-existing conditions (one-third of those under the age of 65) are in jeopardy of losing insurance coverage if Romney and the Republicans succeed in repealing Obamacare.

Krugman estimates that 45 million people who will have health insurance if Obama is re-elected will lose it if Romney wins.

That brings me to my first-born, now approaching her 30th birthday.

She works two jobs in the hospitality industry and earns what I consider pretty good money. But the employers offer few benefits and no health insurance.

I'd like her to put some of her pay into a high-deductible health plan, and have offered to help finance it. But she's more independent than me, and refuses. She's in good health and doesn't see the need for expensive insurance with a high deductible.

That doesn't mean she hasn't ended up with hospital bills in the past, including some the hospital got stuck with.

Beginning in 2014, my little sunshine (now a ball of fire) will be required to purchase health insurance or pay an annual penalty of $695 or 2.5 percent of her income, whichever is greater.

It's that freedom-killing individual mandate that conservatives rail against.

Bless their hearts. They want my daughter to be free to continue to go without health insurance and regular check-ups. They want hospitals and the taxpayers to be free to pick up the bills whenever she doesn't pay them.

Under Obamacare, businesses with more than 50 employees that don't offer health coverage will be required to participate in the system, too. They'll be assessed an annual fee of $2,000 per employee, in excess of 30 employees, if they have at least one employee who receives a premium credit through an insurance exchange.

The individual mandate is what makes the system work. With younger, healthier people encouraged to buy insurance, companies will be able to provide coverage for riskier customers like my sweetheart, without premiums going through the roof.

Conservatives are hootin' and hollarin' about what Obamacare will cost -- when they aren't declaring a socialist take-over or the arrival of the antichrist. They're a gloomy lot.

A more reliable cost-estimator, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, tells a different story.

When the Affordable Health Care Act was adopted back in 2010, the CBO said it would lower budget deficits by about $124 billion over a 10-year period.

In 2011, when Republicans were trying to repeal the law, the CBO said the move would increase the deficit by about $210 billion over 10 years.

PolitiFact, the organization that checks the truthfulness of politicians' claims, has rated Romney's statement that Obamacare adds trillions to the national debt as false.

"How is it that a law can raise taxes and cut spending, but also add trillions to the deficit?" PolitiFact asked. Good question. But then Romney has been saying a lot of things that defy logic -- and sometimes the facts.

"We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," one of his pollsters, Neil Newhouse, famously said last August.

It was a campaign promise that Romney honored during the Oct. 3 presidential debate when he repeated the fib that Obama is cutting $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare.

The president's healthcare law doesn't cut any benefits, but reduces the cost of Medicare over the next 10 years by curbing waste, fraud and abuse in payments to providers. This also is according to Politifact.

In fact, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan included identical savings in his federal budget proposals that all Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for.

Wisconsin 7th District Congressman Sean Duffy is part of the chorus of Republicans claiming that the savings are cuts, even though he voted for them.

Romney and the Republicans are counting voters being uniformed enough to believe their claims about Obamacare and Medicare.

They've got me worried. I care about my wife and daughter.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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