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Published August 21, 2010, 12:00 AM

Conrad: Health reform to bring North Dakota $2 billion

Senator says new law will not increase costs for North Dakotans
BISMARCK – North Dakota will see more than $2 billion in benefits in the next 10 years as a result of federal health care reform, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Friday.

BISMARCK – North Dakota will see more than $2 billion in benefits in the next 10 years as a result of federal health care reform, Sen. Kent Conrad,

D-N.D., said Friday.

Conrad had a news conference at the AARP headquarters in Bismarck “to clarify elements of the health care law and the benefits that it will bring to North Dakota.”

Conrad was responding to remarks from state Republican lawmakers that the new law will increase costs for North Dakotans by about $1.1 billion over the next 10 years.

Industry, Business and Labor Committee Chairman Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, recently said Conrad’s office should look at how the numbers were reached “and tell us where we’re wrong.”

On Friday, Conrad called the state committee study “very deeply flawed” and said it ­didn’t include an assessment of benefits.

“There’s a lot of misinformation that’s been circulated, and misleading information, so this is one more attempt to set the record straight,” Conrad said.

Here’s how Conrad reaches his $2 billion in estimated benefits:

  • $844 million in tax credits for health insurance.

  • More than $240 million in reduced Medicare cost-sharing.

  • More than $545 million in increased payments to North Dakota hospitals and physicians.

  • More than $595 million in Medicaid benefits.

    Conrad said his numbers are conservative and don’t include tax credits for 17,000 North Dakota small businesses. He also said there are intangible benefits with the bans on pre-existing condition exclusions, lifetime limits and rescissions.

    “It expands coverage while beginning to control costs and improves quality and competition and choices for consumers,” Conrad said. “It’s not perfect, but it is clearly, in my judgment, a step in the right direction.”

    Conrad said the legislation “is fully paid for” and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found it will reduce the deficit by $143 billion in the first 10 years.

    The North Dakota Republican Party called Conrad a magician by “arguing benefits will materialize at no cost.”

    “Democrats expect voters to believe that these benefits are going to appear out of thin air, at no cost. The reality is taxpayers will eventually have to pay for this,” Executive Director Adam Jones said in a statement.

    “The only thing Demo-crats haven’t promised on health care is a unicorn for every voter,” he added. “Let’s remember, these are the same people who promised national unemployment wouldn’t rise above

    8 percent if we passed their trillion-dollar stimulus package.”

    The bulk of the $1.1 billion cost in the state committee study was $983 million said to be incurred by Blue Cross Blue Shield consumers, assuming all covered individuals remain

    in grandfathered plans through 2010-19.

    Conrad said this asserts a 60 percent increase in premiums as a result of the health care legislation, which “is not validated

    by any other objective source.”

    Representatives of AARP, St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, North Dakota Farmers Union and The Arc also spoke in favor of the health care law at the news conference.


    Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.

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