Congressional Republicans are making North Carolina a temporary showpiece for opposition to the federal health insurance overhaul law.
Republican U.S. Reps. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte and Renee Ellmers of Dunn held an online video conference call on Thursday to hear from five constituents with complaints about the law's cost, complexity and fumbled launch.
A U.S. House committee scheduled a hearing in Gastonia on Friday to air the criticism of President Barack Obama's cornerstone legislation from more North Carolina residents. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Obama administration critic U.S. Rep Darrell Issa, R-Calif., scheduled the hearing at the Gaston County Courthouse to hear about insurance rate increases expected in coming years.
"Everywhere we turn there is confusion, misinformation and questions about the programs offered, cost of premiums, tax ramifications and more," Dan Waters, president of Hickory insurance brokerage Dan Waters and Associates Inc., wrote in testimony filed ahead of Friday's hearing.
The committee will hear from another local insurance agency head, the president of a Gastonia heating and cooling company, the director of an anti-abortion pregnancy center in Belmont, and Tav Gauss, founder of a staffing and recruiting agency.
Gauss told Issa's committee two years ago he feared he'd be forced to close his Wilson-based company The Action Group if provisions taking effect in January raised his company's cost of health insurance coverage from about $80,000 to more than $700,000. He said in written testimony his cost is now $32,000 because three employees have been laid off since 2011, some staffers dropped out for cheaper plans and others dropped coverage altogether.
He said he doesn't know what coverage costs will be a year from now.
"Right now I have no earthly idea," Gauss said. "There's uncertainty among every business in the United States of America. Every one of them. Because not a one can tell you they are certain what they are going to be able to do come January 2015. Not a single company can tell you that. Nor what it's going to cost us."
Supporters who said the law has made health insurance more affordable are not among the witnesses selected by Issa, and a committee spokesman said no Democrats have said whether they planned to attend the hearing.
The liberal group Progress NC plans a rally outside the courthouse hearing after four people who wanted to discuss how they've benefited from the law were not included, executive director Gerrick Brenner said.
Their requests were made this week and came too late, committee spokesman Frederick Hill said.
Skip Edwards of Asheville said he wrote to Issa when he first read about the coming hearing on the Internet on Wednesday. He has Type 2 diabetes and his wife has a chronic digestive ailment, pre-existing conditions that forced them into North Carolina's high-risk insurance pool, he said. The combined insurance premium for the two 63-year-olds is about $1,300 a month, Edwards said.
"It's been a strain, a major source of worry for us," said Edwards, who has been unemployed for most of the past three years. His wife is a self-employed mental health therapist.
He's been unable to shop for new coverage on the problem-filled federal online insurance marketplace, but sharing his costs and income over the telephone with a marketplace employee he's figured out the couple will qualify for a subsidy of almost $900 a month to help them afford insurance.
"Unfortunately, what I think hasn't gotten out to the general public is the fact that for millions of people like my wife and I, this is our only avenue to obtain health insurance. It's a wonderful thing that you can't be denied simply because of your fate of having a pre-existing condition," Edwards said. "Everybody should be in favor of people obtaining their own health insurance, having that coverage and peace of mind in their future, and not face financial ruin or bankruptcy.