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A Wisconsin business owner's journey through the ACA

phonendoscope on American tickets, concept of sanitary copayment
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phonendoscope on American tickets, concept of sanitary copayment

The Affordable Care Act, in place for nearly 15 years, has survived repeal attempts, but there's renewed talk of reducing its funding.

Later this year, Congress will have to agree on a new federal budget, and the Republican Study Committee proposes cuts to certain social programs, including the ACA.

Chrysa Ostenso, who owns an optometry clinic with her husband in northern Wisconsin, said premiums under the ACA were expensive at first, but recent caps ushered in through temporary tax credits have given her a lot more wiggle room.

"When I realized I was going to be saving $1,000 a month on my health-care premium," she said, "I basically just had the freedom to raise all my employees' salaries."

She said her total savings are roughly $1,600 a month. The temporary caps only run through 2025, prompting separate calls for extensions. In the current budget debate, Ostenso said she worries that people would lose coverage if the ACA sees cuts, resulting in skipped doctor visits and worsening health outcomes.

Republican Study Committee members have argued their blueprint contains sensible policies to address the national debt.

Ostenso said the premium cap from recent ACA adjustments didn't just result in pay raises for her staff; it put them on a better path to obtaining health coverage themselves.

"We always just had to encourage our employees to get health insurance, and try to pay them enough to do it," she said, "and it really wasn't until the 8% that we succeeded in that, and they started all having health insurance."

Aside from premium cost factors, Ostenso said a ban on denying coverage for those with pre-existing conditions helped her family when her daughter was battling cancer. Nowadays, she said she hopes other community members benefit from the ACA provisions, including those who are near retirement age.

"Maybe they'd want to retire a little early, mostly because they physically couldn't do their jobs anymore," she said. "And they would just tell me, 'Well, I'm just going uninsured for these few years until I can qualify for Medicare.' Well, those are the years of your life where you're going to start developing some bad health problems."

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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