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Partisan split on federal Affordable Care Act for Doheny, Owens

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Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny says he's looking beyond the "repeal and replace" mantra that has dominated much of the criticism of the Affordable Care Act in recent weeks. The Watertown businessman, who is challenging incumbent Congressman Bill Owens in this fall's election, has consistently supported repeal of the health care law, often referred to as Obamacare. Owens, a Plattsburgh Democrat, voted for the bill when it passed the House in 2010.

Until recently, Doheny hadn't offered many specifics on what he would do to replace the health care law. Now, the candidate is starting to outline some of his proposals, although as Chris Morris reports, Owens is dismissing many of them for lacking substance.

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Reported by

Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

Matt Doheny has stated repeatedly that he favors an incremental approach to replacing Obamacare. So what would that look like? Doheny says he’d support medical malpractice reform, letting people cross state lines to purchase health insurance and making it easier for people to transfer health insurance policies when they switch jobs. Doheny says allowing people to purchase health insurance policies in other states would open up a “vibrant national market.”

“I’ve said this many times: You can go online and buy something through Amazon, Google or any other e-commerce around the world or the country and that’s not allowed for health care,” he said. “(It) makes no sense.”

But Owens says insurance laws vary from state to state and would stand in the way. He says that currently, the New York State Department of Financial Services requires insurance companies to maintain enough resources to pay out claims. He says letting people cross state lines to purchase their policy would put the customer at risk.

Doheny says young adults often switch jobs multiple times, or they may consider starting their own businesses. He says giving those people the option of portable health insurance plans can make those transitions easier. But Owens says the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act already permits portability of insurance plans for up to 18 months.

“The other avenue that’s available under the bill is the state exchanges, which are not tied to employer coverage,” Owens said. “So there’s a couple vehicles, either already in existence or which are available under the ACA, that would get that done.”

Doheny says he also supports letting people up to age 26 stay on their parents’ health care plan. The current health care law includes the same provision. “Those are four common sense ways that I think can get bipartisan support that I think we’ll continue to make a difference in reducing health care costs,” Doheny said, “because right now, with Obamacare, health care costs are not going to go down.”

One of the major criticisms of the health care law has been its size. According to Doheny, passing bills targeted at specific solutions would make more sense, and they’re more likely to garner bipartisan support. Doheny also says he also supports the use of health savings accounts, improving doctor recruitment in rural areas and the expansion of telemedicine programs.

Doheny says telemedicine means less time and fewer hospital stays for patients and reduces costs for health care providers. He also says that there should be a “national telemedical license” instead of requiring providers to obtain separate licenses in different states.

Owens says telemedicine is a common practice at North Country hospitals, and that a national telemedical license would amount to more federal bureaucracy. “It’s another layer of government becoming involved in something the states already do quite successfully,” he said. “I think if you talked to any medical provider and you talked about telemedicine, they’d tell you that they’re doing it quite well. The real difficulty is that they’d like to do more of it, but it’s not because they have impediments as a result of licensing.”

Doheny says he was surprised the Supreme Court upheld the health care law as constitutional. In a close vote, the court ruled June 28 that the individual mandate is within Congress’s authority because it amounts to a tax. “So my opponent, one of his very first votes in Congress was to raise taxes, and obviously has continued to reaffirm that as recently as last week, when he reaffirmed his vote on Obamacare,” Doheny said.

Owens has supported the individual mandate at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. This is what he had to say on the day the Supreme Court decision came down. “I don’t think that this is a victory for anyone other than my constituents who are need of health care coverage,” he said, “This whole bill is focused on getting people insured so that we get better healthcare outcomes, and a reduction in cost.”

The House has voted 31 times to repeal the act. Owens has called those votes “messaging bills” because they stand little chance of passing in the Senate, and President Barack Obama has stated he wouldn’t sign the legislation anyway.

Doheny says the path to repeal will require majorities in the House and Senate and a Republican president, all of which are possible in this fall’s election. He says voters will have a chance to send a message on the health care law. “I think that that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Doheny said. “I think it’s a clear signal, and we’ll have a clear result through the electoral process and ballot box on November 6th.”

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