Business leaders gather to vent about health law

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Business owners, association leaders and a woman awaiting a kidney transplant gathered in Helena Monday to vent their frustrations about how the nation’s health overhaul has disrupted their insurance coverage or left them facing increased costs with the new year.

The participants, most of whom were selected by the Montana Chamber of Commerce, voiced their complaints at a forum attended by U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Montana.

The problems included late notice of a discontinued plan that left Montana Independent Bankers Association members scrambling to find new coverage and unexpected fees for which the Montana Contractors Association hadn’t budgeted.

“We’re going to pay hundreds of thousands of thousands of dollars even in a best-case scenario,” said Gene Schadt, the contractors association’s director of trust operations.

The nonprofit association already had budgeted more than $450,000 to pay two new fees it knew were coming. In November, association officials found out they also must pay a health insurance provider fee, he said.

The association estimates that fee could cost it much as $750,000 this year on top of the other fees. It plans to pay for the fee from its own reserves rather than pass it on to contractors who are already bidding on projects for the year, Schadt said.

Margo Wright of Helena said she had to put her kidney transplant on hold when her previous insurer, Montana Comprehensive Health Association, halted coverage last year.

She has since found private insurance that is actually cheaper than what she was paying before and it will cover the operation, but she must wait for the new coverage to be approved by the transplant center, she said.

“I’m sure they’ll accept it, it’s just very frustrating that I had insurance and they could have completed the transplant,” Wright said.

Daines, an opponent of the new health-care law, said the stories presented by Wright and selected members of the Montana Chamber of Commerce are similar to others he has heard from all corners of the state.

“We’ve seen some positive stories, but the concerns and challenges have been far, far greater,” Daines said.

It wasn’t lost on all the people in attendance that only one side of the story was being told at the forum.

“I think we have some other stories that we would share and have been collecting about people who are getting lower rates and insurance for the first time, but implementing reform always causes disruption,” said Christina Goe, general counsel for state Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica Lindeen.

The fees charged the associations stabilize the entire insurance market by compensating insurers who can no longer turn away people because of pre-existing conditions, she said. One of those fees will end after three years, she said.

There is a long way to go before a proper assessment of the health care law can be made — at least until midway through 2015, after open enrollment, renewals and next year’s rate schedules are completed, she said.

Chamber president Webb Brown acknowledged the stories presented were skewed against the new law, but said that was the perspective of his members who have insurance coverage through association plans.

“We don’t want to see necessarily a repeal,” he said of the law. “We still think there are some things that can be done. There are some legal reforms that could be accomplished.”

Daines, however, said he believes the best solution is to repeal the law, but he hopes representatives on both sides of the aisle can work to fix some of the problems now.

“I think in the short term looking at these challenges, we need to do everything we can to minimize the harm that Obamacare is having,” he said.

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