Jake Davis, 35, Student, Carroll“Some people are very healthy and don’t need doctors visits as much as others. ...then you run into the problem, well I can’t pay for health insurance, now I got to pay a fine, now I can’t pay for groceries.”
Jake Davis, 35, Student, Carroll
“Some people are very healthy and don’t need doctors visits as much as others. ...then you run into the problem, well I can’t pay for health insurance, now I got to pay a fine, now I can’t pay for groceries.”
Monday, July 16, 2012

President Barack Obama’s signature health-care legislation is an intrusion into personal lives — one that eliminates choices and raises insurance premiums — according to a small random sample of Carroll residents interviewed by the Daily Times Herald in the city’s parks and businesses and other places last week.

“We’re a country that don’t like to have things forced upon us,” said Jake Davis, 35, a Carroll resident who’s studying for a degree in family services at Des Moines Area Community College. “Health care is very important and everyone should have it, but it should be on their own terms.”

Davis was one of a majority interviewed who expressed concern about the Affordable Care Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld just two weeks ago when it preserved the new law’s hotly contested centerpiece that requires all Americans to carry insurance and can fine them if they don’t.

When asked about a handful of important changes made to federal health-care law, most Carroll residents said they supported those that would protect people with pre-existing conditions from higher premiums, eliminate benefit caps on treatment and require emergency rooms to treat uninsured individuals.

But most residents interviewed vehemently objected to the new mandate requiring all Americans to carry insurance. Areas of concern also included changes that would allow young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26-year-olds and the requirement for midsize employers to provide insurance if they have more than 50 employees.  

Residents’ hesitance to support the legislation in general — despite their support for most of its main tenants — underscores a crucial disconnect between Obama’s vision of health care and how people think it will affect their lives, political observers say. That discrepancy may not prove fatal on the ballot this November, national polls reveal, but opinions remain as polarizing as ever.  

“I think the government needs to stay out of it,” said Kevin Brincks of Carroll, a 38-year-old carpenter with three children. “They are trying to control too much, and it’s just causing too many other problems.”

Brincks, who buys insurance in the private market, said he already shells out the equivalent of a car payment for insurance each month and said he is concerned those expenses would grow under the Affordable Care Act, which opponents and even some supporters of the reform package have labeled “Obamacare.”

For Lida Erps, a retired farmer, health care is an area that not only benefits from federal guidance — it requires some.

“If you were to say that ‘I don’t want the government to tell me what to do,’ there are too many instances where they do and there would be chaos otherwise,” said Erps, 83.

The implications of the Affordable Care Act will become clearer as the law unfolds. Changes pertaining to young adults, sick children, benefit caps and preventive care already are in effect, but the bulk of the reforms won’t kick in until 2014.

For now, the reaction in Carroll County reflects the same doubt polls have found at the national level, the latest of which was an ABC News Washington Post poll positing that only 41 percent of Americans said they approved of the health-care overhaul.

Those opinions appear to follow party lines with the majority of Democrats favoring the law and a majority of Republicans disapproving of it, although perhaps with a little more gusto. According to a CBS/ New York Times Poll conducted this March, six in 10 Republican voters said they disapprove strongly and about half of independents opposed to the law.

In Carroll County, where there are more registered independents than either party, the numbers told a similar story.

“I am not in favor of the current health-care provision because there’s a lot of people that have no skin in the game and to make capitalism work I believe that every person should have a little skin in the game,” said Wayne Seaman, 73, retired CEO of West Central Cooperative and a proudly self-declared Republican.

Democrat Ron Wessling,73, said he thinks the health-care law is a positive step forward for the country.

“I think everybody needs health insurance, and I think he’s doing the right thing,” said the Graphic Edge employee. “There are too many people that don’t have insurance and nobody else is paying for it.”

But even those who choose not to identify with a party, like Jessica Harper who isn’t registered to vote, worry the mandate will do more harm than good.

The 33-year-old single mom punches 6- to 10-hour shifts as a cashier at Casey’s to support her five children. To afford coverage for her kids, Harper sacrifices her own, despite having chronic neck pain.  

Jane Clark, an independent, said she is worried about the legacy of the Affordable Care Act on the federal deficit, how the cost is “going to affect not just my generation, but especially my children and grandchildren,” said the 61-year-old retired elementary school teacher.

But these fears may actually be unfounded, said a representative from the Obama campaign who specializes in health care.

“Its not a government takeover, and it’s not socializing their health-care insurance system,” said Christen Linke Young, an Obama campaign health-care policy adviser. “Most people get insurance from work now, that’s not going to change. More people are going to be able to afford to buy private insurance. The health-care law is all about taking the health-care system we have and filling gaps and relying on a private-market health-care system to make sure that we are covering people who are currently uninsured. We want people to take responsibility for their health care when they can afford to buy coverage.”

Once the new law is in full swing, people from all tax brackets can expect a $2,000 drop in their premiums, she said, because it eliminates the unnecessary costs in the system by making sure everyone is accounted for.

Fines will affect only a small population, she said — those who can afford insurance and choose not to buy it, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will constitute only about 1 percent of Americans. Households where insurance costs more than 8 percent of family income will be exempt from the penalty.

At the national level, what Young termed Obamacare will shave billions off the federal budget, she said. In its first 10 years, Obamacare will reduce the federal deficit by $100 billion and then by more than a trillion dollars in its second decade.

If nothing else, the debate over health-care reform serves as another marker of distinction between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee.

“Governor Romney has made it clear that we need to repeal the whole law,” said Shawn McCoy, Romney’s Iowa campaign spokesman. “The law passed on a strictly party-lines vote, its adding $3 trillion to our national debt, it contains a new tax on the middle class, it cuts Medicare and businesses owners say it impedes hiring plans. Governor Romney has made his plans clear, he’s calling for market-based reforms, which will drive down the cost of coverage.”

Romney’s biggest critique of Obamacare is that it damages the economy by hurting families and business owners, McCoy said.  

While some common ground can be found between the two camps — Governor Romney supports reforms that reduce health-care costs and ones that protect those with pre-existing conditions so that all Americans have access to affordable coverage — the game plans differ.

“Obama claims the law reduces the deficit, but that’s only because it raises taxes and raids Medicare to offset spending, and other key parts of the law that were supposed to raise revenue to pay for the trillions in new spending have already failed,” McCoy wrote in an email.

These conflicting outlines have left some voters, like Alice Simons of Carroll, 60, confused. She just wants some facts, she said.

“Everyone is going at it as a political issue, not what is good for the people,” Simons said. “And I will say that both about the current administration and the one to come.”