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Congressmen Hear From NC Opponents Of Health Law

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GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) — Opponents of the federal health care overhaul testified here Friday before congressional Republicans, a hearing that the law’s supporters called a political stunt.

About 200 people attended the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting, which is headed by Obama administration critic U.S. Rep Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

“I brought Congress to North Carolina to understand the real impact of Obamacare on real Americans,” said North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, a committee member. “By and large, most folks are feeling the pain as a result of higher insurance costs.”

McHenry, Issa and North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger heard from five people chosen beforehand who read their pre-submitted statements. Most of the congressmen’s follow-up questions were rhetorical or made a point to show they didn’t like the law.

The Rev. Carolyn Reed-Smith, who came from Spartanburg, S.C., to protest, called it a “staged performance that’s advantageous to the Republican view.”

Issa began the hearing by noting millions of Americans have received cancellation notices because the federal health overhaul considers their policies substandard, forcing them to buy more comprehensive, and more expensive, plans.

Those included Sherry Overbey, who works at the Belmont Crisis Pregnancy Center. She said her new health premiums will skyrocket from $396 to $713 monthly in 2014, with higher deductibles and out-of-pocket co-pays. And because she and her husband jointly make just over $62,000 annually, she said, they’re ineligible for federal subsidies toward a new plan.

“This amount of $713.11 is higher than my mortgage and second mortgage combined,” Overbey said.

The federal law requires plans to cover 10 benefit categories it deems essential without co-pays and regardless of deductibles. Those include maternity care, mental health and substance abuse services, children’s dental and vision care, therapy for injuries and chronic conditions, and preventive services.

Overbey said the law means she’s required to pay for benefits she doesn’t need.

“Of course, I now have maternity coverage. I can also get free birth control pills which at age 58, I am sure I will need both frequently,” she said.

She also took the opportunity to criticize Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who faces re-election next year, highlighting the politics behind the hearing.

Others testifying included an insurance broker, the head of a local insurance agency, the president of a Gastonia heating and cooling company and the founder of a staffing and recruiting agency.

Gerrick Brenner of Progress North Carolina Action noted that, while the congressmen said they wanted to hear directly from affected people, the people who testified often gave second- and third-hand accounts, and no one supporting the law was picked to speak.

“Hearings like this don’t help at all,” he said.

He was among three dozen protesters gathered outside the Gaston County Courthouse with signs that read, “Fix it! Don’t Just Attack It,” ”Real People Ignored,” and “Quit Grandstanding. Get back to work Congress!”

Allison Ward, of Charlotte, said North Carolina Republican leaders’ refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility under the law is preventing her from getting health coverage as President Obama intended. North Carolina is among 24 states not accepting the expansion that the U.S. Supreme Court made an option rather than a mandate.

While Issa heard from people with sticker shock, hundreds of thousands are being denied coverage, she said.

“I wish I could have sticker shock,” said Ward, who’s unemployed and hasn’t had insurance for seven years.

The Gastonia hearing is the first of four by Issa’s committee, with more coming in Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, oversight committee spokesman Frederick Hill said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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