Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2014

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Talk of a shutdown overshadows news of Obamacare kickoff

Though they may ultimately get politically beat in this shutdown showdown, Republicans have already scored one apparent victory in their Obamacare-tinted budget fight.

They are largely drowning out the pomp and circumstance of the health care exchanges’ rollout, scheduled for Oct. 1 — the same day the federal government will shut down without a budget extension.

“The opening of the exchanges is going to get lost in all this noise,” said Eric Herzik, professor of political science at UNR. “If there wasn’t a shutdown, there’d be a lot more media attention on health care.”

Republican lawmakers, especially in the House, have explained their determination to defund or delay the implementation of Obamacare as a condition for passing the budget by pointing to that date.

“The reason that it has become so important … is it’s getting ready to launch,” Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said on Saturday. “You’re on the doorstep of actually implementing this thing.”

A shutdown won’t actually have any delaying effect on the health care exchanges coming online for public perusal, or the individual mandate coming into effect on Jan. 1.

But Obama and other supporters of Obamacare are struggling to make their points about the merits of the health care law as shutdown panic settles in.

“The Affordable Care Act is moving forward,” President Barack Obama reminded Republicans on Monday. “The funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down.”

“They should get a life,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of Republicans on Monday afternoon, standing next to a clock ticking down the seconds until shutdown time at midnight. “The exchanges are coming on board tomorrow.”

In Nevada, starting Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of people will begin to be able to search for health insurance plans that will best fit them, and have been approved under the Silver State Exchange.

“Many Nevadans will get quality coverage for less than they pay for their monthly cellphone bill,” Reid said in a floor speech Monday afternoon, while most reporters’ attention was tuned on the House, in anticipation of that body’s next vote in the ongoing volley of budget/Obamacare resolutions. “For 600,000 uninsured Nevadans who are eligible to purchase insurance through Nevada Health Link beginning tomorrow, Obamacare means access to affordable doctor visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs and more.”

There’s an irony in those figures, Herzik points out.

“The opening of the exchanges will be dwarfed in media reports by the shutdown,” Herzik said. “But I would guess more people will be directly affected by the opening of the exchanges than will be directly affected by the shutdown.”

Nevada has 11,000 to 12,000 civilian federal employees, the bulk of whom would be either furloughed or have to work without pay during a shutdown. Nevada’s several tens of thousands of active duty military members would not be affected by the government shutdown; in the last few days, the House and Senate both passed a bill to keep the troops paid even in the case of a government shutdown.

Yet, there may be a silver lining in the shutdown-induced muzzling of the health care rollout: More time to work the bugs out.

Republicans opposed to the health care law have leapt on media reports turning a spotlight on internal delays that may complicate the rollout of the exchanges, such as news that a Spanish-language version of healthcare.gov will be late to launch, and indications that some state-based exchanges may not be fully prepared to go online by the Oct. 1 opening date.

Nevada’s Silver State Exchange will experience some delays with its Spanish-language platform, but operators are mostly optimistic; their biggest challenge, they told the Sun, is making sure there are enough knowledgeable people on hand to help customers select the right plans.

“It might actually be a good thing for many states to try to ease into the exchange, away from the media glare,” Herzik said. “Out here, a lot of people are still not aware of the exchanges.”

But others argue that no matter how much mixed messaging is coming out of Washington, Nevadans will simply take all of Tuesday’s potential major federal changes in stride.

“In Nevada, you didn’t have an ideological fight [like Congress is having over Obamacare],” said David Damore, political science professor at UNLV. “For most people, they just sort of tune out all this [shutdown] noise. It’s just part of the cacophony of why they hate government.”

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