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November 04. 2013 4:08PM

Shaheen addresses questions, criticism about controversial 2010 'Obamacare' vote

MANCHESTER -- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, accused by critics of voting to make it more difficult for people to keep their current health insurance coverage, said Monday she has always tried to make health care more widely available.

It has been reported during the past several days that all U.S. Senate Democrats, including Shaheen, voted in 2010 against, and killed, a Republican move to block a provision of the Affordable Care Act that, according to various reports, led to millions of Americans, including thousands of Granite Staters, receiving cancellation notices.

Last Friday, Shaheen spokesman Elizabeth Kenisberg said Shaheen voted against the GOP move to block a rule that negated insurance plans in which even minor changes were made -- and as a result allowed the rule to stand in the law -- because "this was a political amendment offered by someone who opposed the Affordable Care Act, and, if passed, would have undermined a number of important consumer protections in the law, including the ban on lifetime limits on key coverage for plans."

In a brief interview Monday following an appearance at a Business and Industry Association luncheon in Manchester, Shaheen was asked if she voted as she did because she believed the GOP move was politically-oriented.

"I would really have to go back and check that," she said. "I can't answer that with any degree of certainty."

The rule requires that even minor changes made to insurance plans that were in effect before the law was passed in 2010 would negate those plans and make them subject to the ACA.

Insurance carriers are now telling millions of individual policy-holders their plans are being cancelled and the customers must sign up for new plans offered through the ACA exchanges.

Critics have accused President Barack Obama of lying, or at least misleading the nation, when he said many times over the past several years that under the ACA, someone who likes his or her health insurance and doctor can keep them.

The Republican National Committee on Monday said it began making "robocalls" into the homes of constituents of Shaheen and eight other Democratic senators who voted against the GOP move to block the rule. The calls accused Shaheen and the other senators of lying.

The New Hampshire robocall script says, "I'm calling from the RNC. President Obama and the Democrats said you could keep your healthcare plan under Obamacare. Now we know Senator Shaheen actually voted to make it more difficult. Call Senator Shaheen at (her office number) and ask why she lied. This call was paid for by the RNC."

"No," Shaheen responded. "My goal since I first got elected to the state Senate, (23) years ago, has been to try to make sure that health care is available to people -- quality health care at a cost people can afford and that people have the coverage they need."

Shaheen explained, "One of the things that I think was important about the health care law was that it increased the coverage that plans would provide to people. For everybody, there is a floor on how much can be eliminated from your health insurance.

"Some insurers haven't made that clear to people when they've given them the notices. But hopefully in the long term, it means people are going to get better health care coverage and if they are having an issue with costs, then there are tax credits that are available through the exchanges," Shaheen said.

"And for people who can't get into the exchange because the web site isn't working, there are people who can help enroll them," she said.

At the BIA luncheon, Shaheen reiterated her call for a delay in the enrollment period for the ACA and for ACA-mandated penalties for those who do not sign up.

"We all know there have been significant problems with the roll-out of the web site and the exchanges," she told the business group. "There are problems with the Affordable Care Act, but I don't think repealing it is the answer."

But she said, "There are a lot of people whose insurance plan does not conform with the provision required under the Affordable Care Act, for a basic level of coverage. They are getting notices that their insurance is going to be discontinued, and that is a real concern.

She said a delay in the enrollment period's March 31, 2014 deadline is necessary because the web site, which has not been working reliably for a month, may now not be in working order for another month.

"As a result," she said, "we should be looking at extending the enrollment date."

Shaheen said the ACA has much to offer "on the positive side."

She said the ACA guarantees "you can't get thrown off of your insurance if you have a pre-existing condition. There are no longer lifetime limits and there are preventative measures, such as mammograms and other screenings and wellness check ups that are covered. And there is help with prescription drug coverage."

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