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Republicans have fought the Affordable Care Act from the start and the troubled rollout of the online federal health exchange has given them a new opportunity to press their attacks. As NPR Don Gonyea reports, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is doing just that, by convening a series of congressional hearings outside Washington.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Congressman Issa has plans for at least four hearings that he says will focus on health insurance price increases that he blames on the ACA. There was one in Gainesville, Georgia, today. The first was in North Carolina on Friday.
(SOUNDBITE OF A GAVEL)
REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: The committee will come to order.
GONYEA: In the Charlotte suburb of Gastonia, Issa - a fierce opponent and critic of the law from its introduction as legislation - struck a very low-key tone in his opening statement, describing the ACA as the law of the land.
ISSA: We're not here to question that act or its validity. What we are here today is to review what is happening in light of its rollout.
GONYEA: He also called for a bipartisan approach to fixing the law, but this event was anything but bipartisan. Starting with its title: ObamaCare Implementation: Sticker Shock of Increased Premiums for Healthcare Coverage. Issa was joined by two Republican congressmen from North Carolina. Then there was the list of five-approved witnesses. All were very critical of not just the rollout but the law itself.
Dan Waters owns a nearby insurance agency. He spoke of the endless questions he's been getting from customers.
DAN WATERS: I like my current plan, why can I not keep it. Why do I have to pay for benefits I will never use, such as maternity benefits, birth control, pediatric vision and dental.
GONYEA: Joel Long runs a large commercial roofing business in Gastonia. He says the company shares the cost of health care for its employees, but...
JOEL LONG: We as businesses cannot operate on unknowns. We cannot plan or budget what do know or do not understand. And as we work to understand the law, we now see the confusion of those charged with its implementation. The chaos of pricing, policy cancellations and quality has caused instability.
GONYEA: Sherry Overby, an ACA opponent who runs a local Crisis Pregnancy Center, added this about President Obama.
SHERRY OVERBY: Now, you can call this deception, deceit, falsifying information, fabrication - whatever. But the bottom-line is that no matter what nicety you give it, a lie is a lie is a lie.
GONYEA: And so it went for two hours. Chairman Issa defended the one-sided witness list, saying Democratic committee members declined to attend and did not submit requests for any witnesses. The ranking Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, issued a statement calling the hearing, quote, "a destructive political exercise with the goal of tearing down the Affordable Care Act."
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: We (unintelligible) against the state. We support the ACA...
GONYEA: In Gastonia, the voices of dissent were outside where about 50 protestors gathered. Sixty-three-year-old Skip Edwards, of Asheville, says he needs the Affordable Care Act because of a pre-existing medical condition. He adds that he applied to be a witness before the committee, but got no response.
SKIP EDWARDS: It's staging. It's only to solicit negative complaints without telling a balance. It's a sham.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Quit grandstanding and get back to work. Quit grandstanding and get back to work...
GONYEA: Congressman Issa has more such hearings scheduled. Next month, he'll be in Arizona and Texas. It's just one piece of the broader GOP effort to use the Affordable Care Act's troubled rollout as a way to keep the issue hot throughout the 2014 election year.
Don Gonyea, NPR News.