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N.H. rivals spurn US health law

Senate GOP foes differ on repeal and alternatives

CONCORD, N.H. — Republicans competing for a chance to take on US Senator Jeanne Shaheen all want to repeal the federal health care overhaul law, though some would keep elements of it.

Responding to questions from the Associated Press, former state senator Jim Rubens and former US senators Bob Smith and Scott Brown describe similar objections to the law that Shaheen, a Democrat, supports.

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‘‘It’s not working the way we were promised,’’ Brown said. ‘‘Rates are going up, people have lost insurance policies they were told they could keep, and there’s no choice in the marketplace.’’

In addition to those points, Rubens said the law is driving up the federal debt and deficit spending and called it ‘‘the largest expansion of big government in decades.’’

Smith and Brown both argue that employer mandate provisions will hurt the economy.

‘‘It will force employers to lay people off and/or cut back their hours, depending upon the number of employees in their business,’’ Smith said.

Asked whether anything in the law should remain in place, Smith cited provisions that allow people to change jobs or insurers without danger of losing access to coverage and prohibit insurers from denying coverage to those with preexisting medical conditions.

Rubens favors keeping the provision that allows children to stay on their parents’ policies through age 26.

‘‘It does not cost taxpayers, and is not a mandate,’’ he said.

Brown, however, said none of the federal law should remain in place and that there is nothing Congress should do to provide greater access to affordable health insurance. Instead, states are best equipped to tackle that problem, he said.

Rubens said Congress should create catastrophic insurance pools to handle preexisting conditions, with premium help for low-income individuals.

He also has outlined a 15-point plan to reduce health care costs and improve quality that calls for means testing for Medicare and Social Security recipients, creating more community health clinics, and allowing an interstate market for health insurance.

Smith agreed that insurance should be sold across state lines, and said tort reform could bring down cost. Other than that, Congress should ‘‘get out of the insurance market’’ and let the free market bring down costs through competition, he said.

More than 40,000 New Hampshire residents have signed up for health plans through the new insurance markets created by the law, including some of the 22,000 people who were told last fall that their previous policies would be canceled because they didn’t comply with the law’s provisions.

The cancellations contradicted President Obama’s promise that those who liked their insurance could keep it, though New Hampshire residents had a chance to renew those plans through 2014, and about half had a chance to extend them an additional year.

Only one company sold health plans through the new marketplace during the first enrollment period, and it was criticized for its narrow provider network.

Next year, however, five companies are expected to offer plans, and each hospital will be included in at least three networks.

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