Midlands lawmakers share their Obamacare signup stories; some report 'sticker shock' - LivewellNebraska.com
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Midlands lawmakers share their Obamacare signup stories; some report 'sticker shock'

WASHINGTON — Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry says he'll be paying nearly $8,000 more in health insurance premiums next year.

“It's real sticker shock,” Fortenberry said.

The Lincoln lawmaker, along with the rest of his Capitol Hill colleagues, were required to sign up by Monday for insurance through the new health care law marketplaces.

If they wanted to continue receiving the government contributions to their premiums — taxpayers foot the bill for about three-quarters of the cost — they needed to sign up through the D.C.-based marketplace.

None of those representing Nebraska or western Iowa reported giving up the government contribution to their premiums.

Lawmakers' complaints about both the process and substance of enrolling have tracked with those of many members of the public. They've had to contend with a balky website, and many have reported higher premiums.

Fortenberry probably has one of the more expensive insurance packages among members. For one thing, he has five young daughters.

He also suggested that one reason he saw such a major premium increase is that he refused to pay for a plan that covered abortion. Only one of the more than 100 plans in the D.C. marketplace does not include that coverage, he said, and it was a particularly expensive one.

“I am — like so many other Americans — trapped, just trapped,” Fortenberry said. “It is effectively not a free market ... In fairness, it does help some people, some other people's rates have gone down, and I've gotten mail from them as well. But we should be able to accomplish that without hurting so many others.”

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he also struggled to find a plan that did not cover abortion. He said the insurance he finally signed up for late Monday still covers contraceptive products and services that run counter to teachings of the Catholic Church.

“What is a person of conscience to do?” King said.

King said that the amount he pays will nearly double and that he considered going uninsured and simply paying the resulting penalty but opted against it.

“As bad a taste as this puts in my mouth, it was the decision I needed to make,” King said.

Reps. Lee Terry and Adrian Smith, both Nebraska Republicans, reported signing up despite technical difficulties. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said he had signed up through the D.C. marketplace but declined to discuss it further.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that he was initially rejected for coverage before finally getting enrolled and that his premium more than doubled.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said the website works sometimes and other times it doesn't, but he finally got confirmation that he had been enrolled.

Johanns had part of a lung removed early in his term after doctors feared that he might have cancer. It turned out that the spot on his lung was benign, and Johanns said he's in great health today.

Much has been made about the government contribution to lawmakers' premiums, but several from Iowa and Nebraska defended it as a basic part of their employment package.

They objected to widespread misperceptions that they have somehow been exempted from the new law or that the premium contribution is something new.

“This contribution dates back to the 1950s,” Johanns said. “It was nothing that was passed in Obamacare.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said Wednesday that she still had not signed up despite hours of trying because of problems with the website.

“It's a lot of frustration,” she said. “It's time-consuming and I'm sorry, I don't have that much time.”

But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of the law's architects and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the site worked fine for him, although he confessed that he had an aide guide him through the process.

Harkin said he was bewildered at the diverse selection of more than 100 plans.

“I don't know how the average person knows how to make that kind of decision,” Harkin said. “I said, 'What have I had before? I kind of like what I had before.' ”

Harkin said he enrolled in a similar plan to what he had previously.

The premium for his new plan was a little higher, he said, but the increase was not “outlandish.”

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