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Blunt remains critical of Affordable Care Act, says Snowden 'clearly broke the law'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 24, 2013: U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says he remains a critic of the federal Affordable Care Act -- and remains convinced that the measure’s pending health insurance changes could eventually end up reducing the number of Americans with coverage.

“It’s almost certain that there will be lots of people two years from now who don’t have health insurance, who had some kind of health care insurance two years ago,” Blunt said, during a Monday morning visit to Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. “I actually think the insured numbers are likely to go down, not up.”

Blunt's observation coincided with the federal government's launch of a new web site aimed at promoting the ACA and explaining how uninsured people can obtain coverage.

Among other things, Blunt maintained that the ACA’s success is “predicated on young healthy people buying insurances at prices they’ve never paid before” because of the act’s mandate that insurance prices can’t be more than three times higher for people who are older or have pre-existing condition.

Blunt also was critical of the Obama administration’s recent announcement that the small business insurance exchanges, aimed at reducing prices, will be delayed a year, to 2015.

Blunt predicted problems with the insurance exchanges for individuals as well. Signups are to begin this fall, but he said there should have been “a dry run” for months, to work out possible kinks.

“I’m not opposed to trying to make (the Affordable Care Act) better, but I think it won’t work,” Blunt concluded.

But the senator emphasized that his bigger concern is that all the focus on the ACA has prompted public officials, and the public, to ignore what needs to be done to bolster the existing federally administered programs, Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare serves people 65 and older, while Medicaid is primarily for the poor and disabled.

“So much of our focus is on the Affordable Care Act, whether it’s going to work or not,” Blunt said. “I think in many ways we’re taking our eye off the ball of how to improve the (health care) programs that we’ve been responsible for, for a long time.”

Blunt was at Mercy to visit its tele-health operations, in particular its electronic intensive care facilities, which allow specialists at the St. Louis location to monitor around the clock the conditions of patients in 450 intensive care beds spread among 15 locations.

The senator lauded the program as “one of those things that needs to happen” to make specialty medical care available and more affordable to more people, especially patients in rural hospitals who may be unable to travel to metropolitan health centers for care.

Electronic surveillance and Snowden

In response to reporters’ questions, Blunt also touched on several other topics, including the controversy involving Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency who disclosed details of some of the classified surveillance programs used by the NSA and other government entities.

Snowden is believed to be in Moscow, but he apparently is planning to end up in South America. National news outlets are reporting that he may be carrying four laptops filled with classified information and documents.

“He clearly broke the law,” Blunt said. “He now appears to be a man on the run. I think he also greatly exaggerated what he could have done as a private contractor, on his own.”

Blunt, a former member of intelligence panels in the House and Senate, emphasized that “I’ve always been an advocate of the FISA process,” in which a secret court’s approval is needed for NSA monitoring.

That said, Blunt added that “I do have concern that the volume of information that the government has been collecting and saving” is too vast and too broad. He said he supported having the process examined by Congress every 4-6 years to make sure that the programs, and the safeguards, are working properly and in a way that protects privacy as well as provides security.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.