Politics & Government

NC congressman says where you live could determine how much health coverage you get

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger talks as he holds a town hall on the WBT radio morning show with Scott Fitzgerald last month.
U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger talks as he holds a town hall on the WBT radio morning show with Scott Fitzgerald last month. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger Tuesday defended his support of a provision in the Republican health care proposal that would let some states charge more for coverage of pre-existing conditions, telling reporters that “People can go to the state that they want to live in.”

“States have all kinds of different policies and there are disparities among states for many things: driving restrictions, alcohol, whatever,” he told reporters in Washington. “We’re putting choices back in the hands of the states. That’s what Jeffersonian democracy provides for.”

According to Talking Points Memo, Pittenger was asked if people with pre-existing conditions could be charged more under the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ latest health care proposal.

Congress is debating the proposal that currently would let some states get a waiver from federal mandates, allowing some insurers to charge higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions.

An amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., lets states apply for waivers from the existing law’s required “essential health benefits,” including maternity, mental health and emergency care, and from rules that generally mandate the same rates for people of the same age, regardless of their medical conditions.

Under the amendment, states could obtain a waiver from a part of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits insurers from charging higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions. To qualify for a waiver, a state would have to have an alternative mechanism such as a high-risk pool or a reinsurance program to provide or subsidize coverage for people with serious illnesses.

In a statement, Pittenger said the latest GOP proposal “does not eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions.”

“The legislation does give states the flexibility to choose which solution is best for their unique circumstances,” he said. “Current law remains in force unless an individual state chooses to serve those with pre-existing conditions through another risk-sharing or reinsurance program. Even then, those individuals cannot be charged more if they maintain continuous coverage.”

Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Pittenger “either doesn’t understand his party’s reckless healthcare repeal bill, or he is lying to his constituents.”

“His claim is patently false and he will have to answer to the over 300,000 people in his district with pre-existing conditions who would no longer be able to afford their health insurance because Robert Pittenger would rather do what’s best for him and his party, not his community,” Leiter said in a statement.

Pittenger said the Talking Points reporter “was operating from a false assumption.”

“Those who believe that big government, one-size-fits-all policies best serve the American people have trouble understanding legislation which protects those in need while giving states flexibility in how to meet those needs. Historically, individuals have relocated states because of tax advantages and other reasons. States are attractive for multiple policy interests.”

The New York Times contributed.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill