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Local Dems fire back at Koch bros. Obamacare ads

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Local Democratic leaders, bristling at new attack ads aimed at convincing the Affordable Care Act was bad for their community, came out to defend the law and and two of Arizona’s congressional representatives for their support of Obamacare.

Even after five years of political wrangling since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, was introduced, the act remains a lightning rod for conservative action. In Arizona, this translates into a two ads that criticize U.S. Reps. Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick for their support of Obamacare. 

Arguing that the act will eliminate jobs, disrupt current health care plans and separate patients from their current doctors, the ads are part of a $700,000 campaign created by The Libre Initiative, a group that calls itself “non-partisan,” but is bankrolled by Charles and David Koch.

Noted industrialists and libertarians, the Koch brothers use their own Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce — set up as a trade association or a 501(c)6 which means it can conceal its donors — to grant $236 million in 2012 to various nonprofit entities, including $3.1 million to The Libre Initiative, according to IRS documents.

The Libre Initiative is designed primarily to promote free-market ideals to the Hispanic community, and the two ads released in Arizona focus on Hispanic families. 

The ad focused on Barber notes that in “Arizona a 27-year old Hispanic could have their insurance more than double” and asks “why does Ron Barber support Obamacare?” 

The ads ends with, "“Tell Congressman Barber, Obamacare is not working.” 

While two ads are focused on Arizona, the site — which notes “if you live in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada or Texas, you may already be feeling the painful impact of Obamacare” — also hosts ads against Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat from Texas, and Rep. Joe García, a Democrat from Florida. 

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Thursday, Pima County District Supervisor Richard Elias defended Barber’s vote and Obamacare as local Democrats held a press conference to refute the political commercial.

“Ron and Ann both made excellent votes in support of the act,” he said. “The Affordable Care Act is good for our community; there are now 11.8 million people who not longer have lifetime limits.” 

He continued, criticizing the Koch brothers specifically. 

“The idea that New York City billionaires can come in and speak on behalf of Latino families in the state of Arizona is ludicrous at best. We need to stand up to that, to let people know that’s wrong and that we have our own voice,” he said. 

Vince Rabago, a former candidate for attorney general in Arizona, echoed this critique. 

“I object to out-of-state billionaire, carpetbaggers if you will, spending nearly a million dollars on ads trying to disrupt the implementation of the law,” he said. 

Rabago noted that years had passed since the original passage of the Affordable Care Act. 

“The law is the law, it’s been five years.” he said. "That ship has sailed, but they’re still trying to un-rivet the bolts.” 

Both Elias and Rabago also noted how the ads targeted Latinos specifically. “We all know deep in our hearts that there is no single entity that speaks for Latino families,” said Elias. 

Dr. Laura Elías de la Torre, who works for El Rio Community Health Center said, “I just really resent the fact that finally after all this time, somebody is scarring my people away from a program that helps me to help them.” 

This year, El Rio hired 18 bilingual health care “navigators” to help people choose insurance programs. 

Daniel Hernandez, a Sunnyside school board member, argued that while the health care bill was “not perfect” the ads did a disservice to communities like the school district he represents, where according to Hernandez, the number of health care providers is a tenth of what it is in the surrounding Tucson-area. 

“For every health care provider, we have 700 people. When you go to the main part of Tucson, it’s one for every 70,” he said. "So for the Latino community, especially like Sunnyside, we have to talk about the access that’s been expanded. These groups are trying to roll back the clock.” 

How the health care law will affect both employment and insurance rates remains an open question. Some problems may be because of widespread problems in both the main Healthcare.gov website and its Spanish-language sister-site Cuidadosalud.gov. And, as Elias notes, differences in culture and language may be keeping the Latino community off the rolls.

Additionally, one of the Libre Initiative’s main complaints, that Obamacare reduces available hours as companies try to avoid benefits, may be true, at least when it comes Arizona’s university system. Arizona State University reduced the availability of hours for temporary faculty, and the University of Arizona may similarly limit hours. 

A recent study by the Health Reform Monitoring Survey noted that in 2013, 17.6 percent of non-elderly adults lacked insurance, however by 2014 that number had dropped to 15.2 percent or around 4.8 million adults. 

A February news release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that eight in ten Latinos may qualify for some form of assistance through Medicaid, CHIP, or lower costs on monthly premiums. 

“If all states took advantage of new opportunities to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, 95 percent of uninsured Latinos might qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or tax credits to help with the cost of premiums in the Marketplace,” the report stated. 

Thursday, the GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives voted 248-179 to change the law, altering the definition of full-time from 30 hours a week to 40 hours per week. The latest of 52 votes against the original provisions of the bill, the move would push thousands off employer-sponsored health care, potentially saving companies millions but also creating a new pool of uninsured Americans. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s name.


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Paul M. Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Local democrats defend the Affordable Care Act on the patio of the DoubleTree Hotel. From left to right: Emily Verdugo, Arizona Democratic Party Latino Caucus chair; attorney Vince Rabago; Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias; and Daniel Hernandez, Sunnyside Governing Board member.

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