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By Eric Stirgus May 10, 2013

GOP attacks Barrow on 'Obamacare' votes

Call it a pre-emptive strike, guilt by association or just good ol’ fashioned partisan politics.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a news release shortly after the April 29 debate between the candidates running for a vacant congressional seat in South Carolina. Former Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, won the seat Tuesday.

The committee claimed in its release that Sanford’s opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, was attempting to distance herself from the federal health care law, commonly called "Obamacare."

Here’s the paragraph that drew our interest because of its Georgia connection:

"ObamaCare has gone from being an ‘abstract’ discussion to a real life pain for families and businesses which has Democrats who supported this costly agenda like Bruce Braley, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, John Barrow, Mark Udall, Gary Peters, Al Franken, Mark Warner, Tom Udall, Dick Durbin and Jeff Merkley in a tailspin," it stated.

Barrow, from Augusta, is in his fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans have tried hard in recent years to unseat Barrow, who has fashioned himself as a moderate. We wondered about the accuracy of this claim because Barrow voted in 2010 against the creation of the health care law.

"I am strongly in favor of reforming the health care system, but I don’t think this bill is going to do it, and therefore I can’t support it," Barrow said before the vote. "It puts too much of the burden of paying for it on working folks who are already being overcharged, and that’s not fair. It threatens to overwhelm Medicaid in Georgia, and that's not right. And it barely touches the insurance companies, and that's not smart. We can do better and I’m ready to start."

NRSC spokeswoman Brook Hougesen said the claim is accurate, citing two votes Barrow cast against repealing the entire health care law. Those votes came in January 2011 and last July.

The repeal measure passed in the Republican-controlled House, but repeal efforts consistently failed in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats held a slim majority.

"He voted against ObamaCare before voting twice to keep the costly health care overhaul in place," Hougesen said via email.

Hougesen concluded by saying: "Facts are a stubborn thing, and no matter how hard Barrow or Obama attempt to cast blame on Republicans for their disastrous law, it’s theirs to own."

Barrow spokesman Richard Carbo said the NRSC’s accusations against his boss are "the same song and dance from these folks who don’t necessarily understand how the process works."

Carbo said there are pieces of the health care law that Barrow wants to keep in place, such as prohibiting insurance companies from denying care because of pre-existing conditions. Barrow also supports the provision that allows children to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they’re 26 years old. Carbo said Barrow wants to remove some of the most controversial pieces of the health care law, such as:

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  • The Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is designed to examine quality and access to care under the law, the effects of changes in payments to providers.

  • The individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance or face a tax penalty.

  • An employer mandate that businesses with more than 50 full-time employees offer health care coverage to their employees or pay a penalty of $2,000 per worker above 30 employees.

Bill Custer, the director of Georgia State University’s Center for Health Services Research, said the health care law is complicated and blanket statements about its impact on businesses and people "are wrong on either side."

Custer said the law will help some small businesses that were previously unable to hire more workers because they can now offer health insurance or the worker can buy it through a health insurance exchange. Some larger businesses, he said, may be hurt by the law because of its potential penalties.

"The overarching answer is adding and removing some provisions will help and hurt some individuals and businesses. It’s not an easy divide," said Custer, an associate professor who previously was an economist in a division of the American Medical Association and has written several papers on health insurance.

Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the Washington-based America's Health Insurance Plans, sent us a chart showing information from five different organizations that concluded removing the individual mandate would result in millions of additional uninsured Americans and an increase in private health insurance premiums.

"If you remove just the mandates and leave everything else in place, the cost of coverage would increase quite dramatically," he said.

AHIP, the national trade association representing the health insurance industry, supports bipartisan legislation introduced in February that would remove the health insurance tax scheduled to take effect in 2014. Zirkelbach noted Barrow is one of the bill’s sponsors.

"Unless this tax is repealed, next year an average family will pay over $300 in higher premiums, seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage will face $220 in reduced benefits and higher out-of-pocket costs, and state Medicaid managed care plans will incur an additional $80 in costs for each person covered," AHIP wrote after the bill was introduced.

Zirkelbach sent us a chart showing the tax will result in an increase in premiums of between $5,539 and $6,777 for the average Georgia family over a 10-year stretch.

So where does this leave us? The NRSC says Barrow’s unwillingness to vote for repealing the health care law is a "real life pain" for people and businesses because of its costs.

An argument can be made that Barrow’s votes against repeal are tantamount to indirect support of its implementation. In other words, the NRSC says, Barrow owns it.

Barrow, however, voted against the original Obamacare legislation and wants to repeal various parts of the law. The GOP cherry-picked a few votes to stretch a point here on a lawmaker it wants to defeat,

Our rating: Mostly False.

Our Sources

News release from National Republican Senatorial Committee, April 30, 2013.

Augusta Chronicle editorial, "The two faces of John Barrow," Nov. 1, 2010.

America’s Health Insurance Plans chart showing impact of health insurance tax on Georgians.

America’s Health Insurance Plans chart showing impact of removing individual mandate.

Email from Brook Hougesen, spokeswoman, National Republican Senatorial Committee, April 30, 2013.


Email from Richard Carbo, spokesman, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, May 1, 2013.

House of Representatives roll call vote 14, Jan. 19, 2011.

House of Representatives roll call vote 460, July 11, 2012.

Statement by U.S. Rep. John Barrow on health care law bill.

Telephone interview with Bill Custer, associate professor, Georgia State University, May 2, 2013.

Telephone interview with Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman, America’s Health Insurance Plans, May 3, 2013.

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