The moderate’s awkward two-step
As US Sen. Kay Hagan watches her poll numbers drop in concert with the mounting troubles in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the Democratic incumbent is seeking to put distance between herself and President Obama in a way that must make the party faithful wince.
Earlier this month she asked for a one-year delay for insurance plans meet the requirements of the new law after insurers started dropping subscribers in contravention of Obama’s promise that people who liked their plans could keep them. Soon afterwards, the president announced an administrative initiative to do exactly what Hagan asked for.
Whether the plans provide good coverage at a good price or not, the fact that 473,000 North Carolinians are currently being dropped cannot be minimized.
Reacting to the president’s announcement, Hagan essentially said it was welcome, but not good enough. Hagan signaled her support for a bill filed earlier this month by Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who is also up for reelection next year. Landrieu’s bill, like the president’s initiative, allows individuals to keep their current plans, but goes a step further in requiring insurers to notify policyholders as to which parts of their plans do not meet compliance requirements, such as hospitalization, laboratory services and prenatal care. The bill defends the lawmakers’ right flanks by bringing the hammer down on the president while placating the left by getting tough on the insurance industry.
Meanwhile, implementation of a fix through a one-year delay is more complicated than anyone would like. Reaction from state regulators and insurance companies late last week was mixed. While regulators in some states said the president’s plan was unworkable, NC Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin responded favorably. The pledge from Goodwin that he will work with insurers to see that policyholders can keep their plans provides a home-court assist to fellow Democrat Hagan. And it certainly didn’t hurt that Blue Cross Blue Shield, the largest insurer in the state, said it would file plans with the NC Department of Insurance to allow most of its customers to keep their current plans for another year.
Hagan also called for the Government Accountability Office to undertake “a complete, thorough investigation to determine the causes of the design and implementation failures of healthcare.gov.”
Hagan and Landrieu are among a dozen Senate Democrats seeking reelection next year. National Public Radio’s politics blog made Hagan the poster child for the imperiled Democrats last week, with author Liz Halloran appending the heading to a section about Hagan’s challenges: “North Carolina free fall?” Halloran cited disappointing poll numbers from Public Policy Polling, which found Hagan “basically tied” with three Republican challengers, including NC House Speaker Thom Tillis, Charlotte pastor Mark Harris and nurse Heather Grant, while trailing Cary physician Greg Brannon, also a Republican. The tightening race coincides with declining poll numbers for President Obama in a state where his signature legislative achievement has always been unpopular.
But the last word should perhaps go to longtime Democratic consultant Gary Pearce, who advised Hagan in the Talking About Politics blog: “Remain calm. Step away from the ledge. Repeat after me: ‘This website mess needs to be fixed. But we’d also better fix our healthcare mess. If we don’t, it will bankrupt our nation and every family in it. What’s the Republican plan?’”