Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Obamacare Haters Help People Sign Up

State's Republican politicians who oppose law are helping enroll their constituents.

No one is more opposed to the Affordable Care Act — a.k.a. Obamacare — than the Republican members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.

The state’s five GOP reps — Paul Ryan, James Sensenbrenner, Tom Petri, Sean Duffy and Reid Ribble — have repeatedly voted to repeal the landmark bill. All joined the House majority in opposition that led to a partial shutdown of the federal government. Sensenbrenner, for one, has called the law “abominable.”

So what does Sensenbrenner’s office do when constituents seek its assistance getting in on this abomination? Why, assist them, of course.

“Part of our job is to help our constituents with government programs,” says Ben Miller, a spokesman for Sensenbrenner. “So if Obamacare is the law of the land, then our office will help folks if we can.”

Sen. Ron Johnson

Sen. Ron Johnson

Similar sentiments issue from the offices of the state’s other GOP House members and that of Sen. Ron Johnson, who has called Obamacare “the greatest single assault on our freedom in our lifetime.”

“There’s no reason to be uncooperative,” says an aide to Johnson. In most cases, this means making referrals to healthcare.gov, the federal government’s online portal for program information and enrollment, which began Oct. 1 for coverage next year. “We’ll direct people right to the source.”

A spokeswoman for Duffy says that while his office tries to help constituents answer questions about enrollment, these answers are sometimes “hard to come by” due to unresolved issues with the law.

Ryan’s office says most of the constituents he’s heard from about Obamacare have expressed opposition. A spokesman for Petri says nearly 75 percent of the calls, email and letters to that office are from opponents. Johnson’s aide put the ratio at roughly 10 to one.

On the other side of the political aisle, Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan, Gwen Moore and Ron Kind and Sen. Tammy Baldwin are also helping constituents find their way to Obamacare, with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm.

Moore has created a page on her website to help people understand the law and is hosting two health-care forums in October. “We are hearing from a lot of people,” says her spokeswoman, Staci Cox. Baldwin also has a webpage on the topic and has pressed state officials to help state residents find coverage.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker is shifting 92,000 people from the state’s BadgerCare health insurance program to the new federal exchanges, and letting about 82,000 poverty-level childless adults sign up for BadgerCare. Much of the work to make new eligibility determinations and facilitate enrollments will be done at the county level.

Of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, only one — Barron — has refused to accept federal and state funds to hire new people for this purpose. There, Wisconsin Public Radio reported, health department staff are now racking up overtime to meet the demand. In Brown County, a supervisor proposed barring county agencies and staff from helping implement Obamacare, but this was rejected.

Walker’s Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has been accused of trying to stir up opposition to Obamacare by predicting substantial new rate increases, using partial information that did not factor in available subsidies. OCI is also imposing fees and other hurdles on “navigators” — persons trained to help consumers use the new exchanges.

These include a requirement that Wisconsin navigators undergo a background check and be fingerprinted. OCI spokesman J.P. Wieske told the Associated Press this was necessary to prevent fraud related to their access to sensitive personal information.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy group, sees these as deliberate attempts to “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act. “We do have a concern that there are going to be officials who will try to undermine the act and its implementation.”

But others will be doing what they can to help people enroll — whether they like it or not.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by The Joyce Foundation.

The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

7 thoughts on “Obamacare Haters Help People Sign Up”

  1. mbradleyc says:

    It reads to me as though the only real hater here is you, Mr. Lueders. The congress people are just doing their jobs, both by opposing legislation they don’t agree with and helping their constituents in dealing with the law of the land.

    You seem to find that hypocritical. I think you are just an ideologue unable to respect the nuances of political life. Your headline and the gist of the column at least seem to be trying to stir up ridicule for good people with legitimate objections to a law they still have to work with.

    That’s the level of discourse we’ve come to, apparently. It’s sad.

  2. John G. says:

    Except the opposition to the legislation went to the Supreme Court where it was voted 5-4 as being constitutionally legal. Now they are threatening to stop Social Security/Medicare payments and everything else through a default to try and force the issue. In the 200+ years of this Country’s existence this has never before been a political strategy until 2011 when the wing nut ultra-conservatives decided it was okay to play chicken with the world’s financial markets and peoples’ livelihoods.

  3. Bruce Thompson says:

    Mbradleyc: Sorry it’s been such a rough morning. I hope the rest of your day went better.

  4. mbradleyc says:

    I had a fine day start to finish, Mr. Thompson.

    I gather my opinions are unwelcome here.

  5. Angela Q says:

    While mbradleyc may have put his response in a very confrontational tone and took it a bit too personal, he has a point.

    Full disclaimer, I am in favor of the ACA and my family will likely benefit from it. I do wish politics could be pushed aside when it comes to the fact all people should have access to healthcare in the USA. (My opinion). That being said, I actually give credit to politicians who can put their opinions aside and help people, even if it’s something they don’t agree with.

    Do I think these representatives should be so verbally toxic with their rhetoric? Absolutely not. But good to know that when the rubber meets the road, they may actually be good people willing to help people, but are currently caught up in the political machine.

  6. georgene Q says:

    These respresentives of the people in Wisconsin need to do whatever it takes to help those that put them in office. I do not call pointing to a website as doing much to help. That I call minimal support. Those representatives are paid by the people, and receive five star healthcare from the “people”. They are not struggling to pay their bills, or feed their families, or fight off credators because of healthcare bills. So, the least they can expect is active involvement by the Congressmen and Senators they put in Washington to carry out “their wishes”, not the wishes either party, BUT the wishes of the people that elected them. Sadly, I don’t see that happening.

  7. Bruce Thompson says:

    I thought it was a fine article and rather reassuring, that our federal legislators weren’t letting their personal viewpoint interfere with trying to help their constituents. I suspect that might not be true if one went further south.

    I am sure that legislators help people all the time navigating laws that the legislators think are unwise, so this is nothing new. What is new is the level of vitriol directed at the Affordable Care Act. I don’t recall any other legislation that came anywhere close.

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