Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh
Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh
Access Health CT CEO James Wadleigh.

Washington – As part of a renewed attack on the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans grilled Access Health CEO James Wadleigh and the heads of other state health insurance marketplaces Tuesday, saying they had wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on an effort that has raised health insurance deductibles and premiums.

“In many states, physicians aren’t taking any new Medicaid patients. Focusing on uninsured rates is not the only parameter,” Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which held Tuesday’s hearing, defended the performance of the exchanges, saying they dramatically cut the number of uninsured and improved medical coverage.

“I hope we are not hoping that the state exchanges fail,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Col.

The hearing, which was originally scheduled for July and postponed until Tuesday, was held as House Republicans plan a new assault on the ACA. It comes as the state exchanges gear up for the Nov. 1 start of the open enrollment period to sign up for insurance.

House leaders said this week they hope to gut the health care law through a procedural move called budget reconciliation — a measure that bars the Senate from using a filibuster to block legislation and that was used to pass the ACA. The legislation would repeal the ACA’s requirements that most individuals have health insurance and that larger companies cover their workers. It would also repeal the “Cadillac tax” on expensive, comprehensive plans and medical devices.

“Without these parts of the law — particularly the individual and employer mandates— Obamacare could not stand,” said a statement released Tuesday by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee.

President Obama is expected to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Meanwhile, Wadleigh, who testified with exchange chiefs from Oregon, Massachusetts, Hawaii, California and Minnesota, said Access Health CT has helped cut the number of uninsured in Connecticut in half, from 8 percent to less than 4 percent.

“We’ve worked with Connecticut’s insurance commissioner to keep costs down,” Wadleigh said.

Wadleigh also said Access Health CT, which received $176 million from the federal government to set up operations, has “become a self-sustaining exchange – well ahead of next year’s deadline.”

“We no longer use state or federal funding for our operating costs,” he said.

Wadleigh said Connecticut’s exchange is a model for other states, and cited a Forbes columnist who wrote “Connecticut isn’t just ahead of every other state; it’s in its own league entirely.”

But Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said only about half of those enrolled in health coverage through Access Health CT were previously uninsured.

Murphy said there were expensive glitches that have prompted some states –including Hawaii  — to abandon attempts to run their own exchanges and switch to a federally run marketplace, but to hear the exchange chief’s testimony “it would appear everything is rainbows and unicorns.”

Under questioning by the panel’s Republican members, Wadleigh testified Access Health CT cost $28 million to run this year. But he said he did not know the cost of enrolling each individual who has received coverage through Access Heath CT.

Wadleigh also said the state had to increase a fee on the state’s insurers by 22 percent to cover Access Health CT’s operating costs, a cost that has been passed on to policyholders.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., questioned Wadleigh’s testimony that the cost of “the most affordable [health] plans had remained flat.”

“That raises in my mind…if your most affordable plans remain flat, you don’t tell me about the others. Does that mean everyone else is getting an increase?” Griffith asked.

Wadleigh stumbled a little in his reply.

“There are always going to be plans …that are much richer,” he finally conceded.

This is video of the entire proceeding:

YouTube video

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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