Sherie Luffman has been without health insurance for the past seven years.
“I had to cancel it because I couldn’t afford $750 a month in insurance premiums, and I’m more than two years away from qualifying for Medicare,” said Luffman, first vice chairwoman of the Whitfield County Democratic Party.
“I’m really looking forward to the Affordable Care Act taking effect. I’ll be able to buy insurance on the health care exchange. I’ll qualify for federal assistance to help pay my premiums. I’ll be able to go to the doctor when I get sick instead of waiting to see if I get better or die,” she said.
Luffman was one of about 40 people gathered in front of the Whitfield County Courthouse Wednesday evening to support the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to oppose a bill authored by U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, that would defund and delay the bill for one year. Graves’ district includes Whitfield and Murray counties.
Enrollment in the health care exchanges created by the law is set to begin Tuesday. Other provisions, such as a mandate that all individuals have some form of health insurance, will start Jan. 1, 2014.
The protest was arranged by Organizing for Action, which grew out of President Barack Obama’s election and re-election campaigns.
“We are concerned about Congressman Graves’ attempts to tie the Affordable Care Act to continuing funding for the federal government,” said Dalton resident Austin Wade, a volunteer for Organizing for Action.
Funding for most government operations expires Monday. But the U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a bill, authored by Graves, that would extend funding for the government into mid-December while defunding Obamacare.
“There’s no chance the Senate will pass that bill. There’s no chance the president will sign that bill,” Wade said.
Wade said a government shutdown will hurt the poor and middle class.
“We think that instead of trying to end the law, if he thinks there are problems with it he should try to amend it,” Wade said.
But John Donnelly, communications director for Graves, says Obamacare will hurt Georgians.
“It’s no surprise that President Obama’s former re-election campaign is attacking those who speak the truth about the harmful effects of Obamacare,” he said in a statement. “With Georgia’s insurance commissioner saying health insurance rates will rise as much as 198 percent because of Obamacare, these OFA political operatives should be marching on the White House instead of the Whitfield County Courthouse.”
In a television appearance Sunday, Graves noted that Obama “himself has amended, delayed or repealed 19 components of his very own law.” Those include the employer mandate, which requires firms that employ more than 50 full-time workers to offer them health insurance, and the cap on out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Wade said that he did not wish to see any part of the health care law delayed, including those provisions already delayed by the president.
“I understand why he did that. He was trying to make concessions to get people to work with him, and that hasn’t worked. I don’t think he has set a precedent to delay other parts of the law,” he said.
Dalton resident Wilma Gibson said that 12 years ago she had to buy insurance after poor health forced her husband to quit working and their COBRA coverage expired.
“My premium went pretty quickly from just over $300 to more than $500 and that was 12 years ago. Even though I’m on Medicare now, I sympathize with all of these people who don’t have health insurance and can’t afford it. I don’t think we should do anything to endanger a law that would provide them coverage,” she said.
Dalton resident Jan Suggs said several concerned citizens have come together to put together two forums on the health care law.
“We think there are a lot of people in this area who could benefit from the law and from the subsidies it provides to purchase health care insurance,” she said. “We will have someone from a law firm. We will have a physician. We will also have a navigator affiliated with the University of Georgia who will do a demonstration and maybe enroll some people.”
The health care act created navigators that will help customers assess all of the options available to them on the health care exchanges and help them enroll in one of the health insurance plans. The University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences was awarded one of the contracts to provide navigators in Georgia.
An English-language forum is Monday, Nov. 11 and a Spanish forum is Thursday, Nov. 14. Both will be at the Mack Gaston Community Center at 6:30 p.m.