Cape Senator Dan Wolf Injects Reality Into DC Health Law Hearings

State Senator Dan Wolf Testifies on ACA before House Committee

Today the Republican-controlled US Congressional House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the horrors coming to the economy due to the Affordable Care Act. The hearing, using favored Republican terminology, was titled “Examining the Impact of Obamacare on Job Creators and the Economy,” and was in preparation for yet another inconsequential vote to repeal ObamaCare scheduled for tomorrow, the 31st time the House will vote on repeal. The forecasted disasters were interrupted, however, by testimony from Massachusetts State Senator and Cape Air owner Dan Wolf (see testimony, pdf).

While other hand-picked testifiers worried about the uncertainty and taxes, Senator Wolf gave the Committee his honest assessment of business under Massachusetts health reform:

I’m here to debunk myths and dispel fear and misunderstanding about the 2006 health care reform act that Massachusetts enacted with strong bipartisan support. It also is the template for much of the Affordable Care Act now sanctioned as the law of our land….

Here’s what really happened: …

Health care reform has not stifled business. The Massachusetts Health Care Reform was designed to ensure access, not curtail cost. With landmark state legislation now close to passage, building on the success of the 2006 act, Massachusetts is on the verge of implementing new strategies to contain costs, while continuing to provide coverage for more than 98 percent of Massachusetts residents.

But I can also report that health care costs have not spiraled because of the plan, far from it. This year, Cape Air saw a 5 percent increase in premiums – too much, but far from the 15 to 20 percent increases we saw year after year before reform took effect. Last year, our increase was 4 percent. The previous year, we were able to negotiate a 5 percent decrease.

So Cape Air’s success should be seen in a state context. Unemployment in Massachusetts has dropped from 8 percent in 2009 to 5.8 percent in May of this year. This is 2.4 percent below the national average. Massachusetts ranks eighth in the nation in job creation this year, adding 37,800 new jobs through May. Since January, 2007, Massachusetts ranks third in the nation in economic performance, as defined by our gross state product.

Meanwhile, additional state spending for health care programs resulting from payment reform only represented 1.4 percent of the state budget in 2011 — again, with more than 98 percent of our residents covered, which includes a 400,000 net increase in the number of non-elderly insured residents.

And the Health Connector – the Massachusetts version of the health insurance exchanges in the Affordable Care Act – has reduced premiums in the last 2 years by 10 percent. These facts explain why surveys consistently find that about two-thirds of our residents support the state’s health reform.

While the Republicans on the Committee tried to get Wolf to admit that higher taxes would somehow hurt his business, he replied with knowledgeable defenses of health reform based on on-the-ground experience. He repelled every attack directed at him by the Republicans, and refuted the misinformation coming from the other witnesses. He also spoke first-hand about the human impact of expanding coverage on his workers, who were able to get the medical care they needed because of the good insurance provided by his firm. He explained clearly that expanding health coverage was humane, compassionate, and also smart business.

When the House votes on party lines to repeal the ACA, we think at least some of those voting yes who heard Senator Wolf’s testimony will have a little voice of ambivalence in the back of their heads.

We congratulate Senator Wolf, a good friend of HCFA who has already made his mark on health policy in his first term in the Senate, for his outstanding testimony.
-Brian Rosman

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