Reid makes healthcare a campaign issue


He lambasted Nevada Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons’ decision not to set up a state high-risk insurance pool for sick people who can’t find affordable insurance.

Reid, who faces a tough reelection campaign, will also kick off an ad campaign Friday touting the benefits Nevada could receive from the legislation.

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In a press release issued Wednesday night Reid accused the governor of “turning down $61 million that Sen. Reid helped secure for our state to help people who can’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions.”

Earlier Wednesday, Gibbons wrote to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and declined to set up a state high-risk pool. Gibbons also called the $61 million set aside for Nevada “grossly inadequate.” He said state agencies have calculated that the funds would only cover about 2,900 out of the 100,000 or so uninsured Nevadans who would be eligible.

“We do not believe financial or human resources are available to manage the pool,” Gibbons wrote. “There will be a significant problem managing the few who become eligible, but even a larger problem managing the frustration of people not eligible for the pool.”

At Gibbons’ urging, Nevada earlier this month joined a dozen other states in a lawsuit against HHS that argues the new law is unconstitutional.

“Jim Gibbons is once again proving whose side he is on,” Reid’s release says, “and it’s not on the side of struggling Nevadans.”

Nevada is the third state – after Georgia and Nebraska – to decline to operate a high-risk pool. Sebelius in an April 2 letter to governors and insurance commissioners gave them until Friday to decide whether to operate their own pool.

The new healthcare reform law sets aside $5 billion for the creation, starting July 1, of high-risk pools that should allow the medically uninsurable – people with costly pre-existing conditions who aren’t eligible for Medicare or Medicaid – to get the insurance they need.

The provision is a stop-gap measure before the health insurance system is overhauled in 2014 and health plans have to accept all applicants.

Asked if Reid would seek either to reshuffle the $5 billion so Nevada would get more or to appropriate more money for the high-risk pool provision, spokesman Tom Brede indicated Reid to the contrary took credit for getting $61 million for his state.

“The amount doesn’t matter to the governor,” Brede said via e-mail, “because he wants to repeal the entire thing anyway.”

Reid faces declining approval ratings in his home state and has trailed his potential Republican challengers in polls.