Debate over cost, impact of new healthcare exchanges

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MADISON (WITI) -- Gov. Scott Walker's administration says health insurance costs could skyrocket when the Affordable Care Act takes effect. But consumer advocates and Democrats say the governor is "cooking the books" to make a political point.

American health care is about to undergo the biggest change in a generation. On October 1st, the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges will open online. The exchanges will offer private health plans to families and individuals who aren't covered by an employer.

Kathy Bornheimer was diagnosed with cancer in May 2009. She was left with few options for coverage. Bornheimer is one of 500,000 people in Wisconsin who will be shopping for insurance through these online exchanges.

This week, the Walker administration released a report showing insurance premiums could skyrocket when the exchanges take effect -- some by almost 80 percent.

Consumer advocate Robert Kraig says the Walker administration's numbers are skewed to show the health care law in a negative light.

"I saw an attempt to scare the public, not to inform them," said Kraig.

"We have no intent to scare people," said J.P. Wieske, from the Office of Commissioner of Insurance. "We want them to have realistic expectations when October 1 rolls around, but we don't want to scare people."

Weiske held an informational session in West Allis on Wednesday, September 4th. He faces questions about the rate increase estimates.

"We did a release yesterday, and maybe it wasn't perfect," said Weiske.

"They're not giving all the information, they're just stating there's going to be increased rates for some people without saying what the plans are, without taking into account subsidies," said Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson. "So the fact is most people will see more affordable health care and have access to more options than they currently do."

The office of the Commissioner of Insurance says each rate will be set individually. So it's difficult to formulate broad trends from single examples.

Consumer advocates say the insurance rates, when tax credits and subsidies are included, will almost certainly be lower than the numbers provided by the Walker administration.