Higher Premiums–Both Now and Later

One of then-Senator Obama’s promises for Obamacare was a $2,500 premium reduction. But as we know, health insurance premiums continue to rise.

Last week’s release of the annual Kaiser Family Foundation survey of employer-sponsored health coverage again illustrated Obamacare’s failure to reduce health costs. According to the survey, health insurance premiums for a family policy increased by more than $600 this year.

Worse yet, the details of the survey illustrate how premiums will rise for many workers and firms next year due to the new benefit mandates imposed by Obamacare. Here are just some of the people who will face higher health costs in 2014 due to the law:

  • Nearly one in three (31 percent) covered workers in small firms has a single deductible of $2,000 or more (Exhibit 7.8, p. 109). But Section 1302(c)(2) of the law caps deductibles for small group health plans at $2,000 for a single policy. These workers will face premium increases thanks to Obamacare.
  • Nearly one in eight covered workers (12%) is in a plan with no annual out-of-pocket maximum (Exhibit 7.31, p. 132). But Section 1302(c)(1) of the law prohibits annual limitation on cost-sharing above a government-defined threshold. These workers will face premium increases thanks to Obamacare.

Of course, those higher health costs presume that Americans will get to keep their health plans at all. And as we previously noted, that definitely won’t be the case—many Americans will lose their plans, either because their insurance company decided to leave the marketplace or because their coverage does not meet “government-approved” requirements.

On Friday, the President claimed that “[health] costs have actually gone down” thanks in part to Obamacare. On that count, he’s wrong, for multiple reasons. First, as noted above, the Kaiser survey found that premium costs are still growing at more than twice the rate of wages—far from the $2,500 premium reduction candidate Obama promised. Second, many Americans will face higher health costs next year due to Obamacare—a fact many businesses have realized. It’s yet another reason why Congress should act to defund Obamacare now.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Former Obama Administration Staffers Now Making Money Off Obamacare

After examining the harmful impacts of Obamacare on so many segments of the population—seniors, doctors, and future generations—we’ve finally found one constituency for whom the unpopular law has proved an unmitigated boon: high-priced lobbyists.

The Hill reports on how dozens of former staffers who wrote and implemented the law are now “cashing in,” trading their expertise for big bucks:

ObamaCare has become big business for an elite network of Washington lobbyists and consultants who helped shape the law from the inside. More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010….

“When [Vice President] Biden leaned over [during healthcare signing] and said to [President] Obama, ‘This is a big f’n deal,’” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the McCormick Group, “he was right.”

As the article notes, these high-priced lobbying firms and their clients are searching for “expert help,” both to understand the law—we did have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it, remember—and to lobby bureaucrats into making regulatory changes. Hence “widespread complaints from businesses and their lobbyists” led to a delay in the employer mandate.

And it’s not just big businesses and their K Street lobbyists receiving special treatment under Obamacare. Unions received their waivers—although they’re now lobbying for yet another exemption from the law. Congress recently got in on the act, lobbying behind closed doors for its own illegal relief, to keep taxpayer-funded health insurance subsidies going to Members of Congress and their staffs.

This is the type of behavior—shady backroom deals like the “Louisiana Purchase” and the “Cornhusker Kickback”—that helped make Obamacare so unpopular when Congress rammed it through more than three years ago.

There’s one easy way to put a stop to this unfair, unworkable, and unpopular law: Congress should embrace the opportunity to defund Obamacare now.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

The Most Effective Obamacare Delay Is Full Defunding

There is nothing controversial about stopping Obamacare. A majority of Americans dislike the law and want it repealed. Obamacare is disastrous for individuals, businesses, and doctors alike. It is unaffordable and unworkable, and the Obama Administration has also made it unfair by giving its pet interest groups waivers and opt-outs.

Conservatives are also united behind full repeal of Obamacare, despite what you may hear from the media and liberal operatives. The debate right now is on how this goal is best achieved.

Debate is healthy for society, and also for a movement. Conservatives should not want to become the empty echo chamber that has become the liberal political/media/academic establishment.

With that in mind, let’s turn to the debate over how to save the country from Obamacare. Our view is that the most effective way to delay Obamacare is to cut off funding. Congress can halt Obamacare’s disastrous impact by defunding it entirely before the law’s health insurance exchanges take effect on October 1.

This approach would prevent further implementation of the law; it is the only tactic that fully achieves the objective that advocates of delay seek to accomplish.

Some conservatives believe they can achieve delay without defunding by postponing the individual mandate and employer mandate for one year while leaving firmly in place the massive federal spending on Obamacare’s new health care entitlements—$48 billion next year, and nearly $1.8 trillion over 10 years. Others, acknowledging that a delay of the mandate is insufficient, are now calling for Congress to delay the mandates and the new entitlements.

Both approaches are flawed, however. First, Obamacare is far more than the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and the new entitlement spending. It’s a massive, government-centered restructuring of American health care. A 53-page Obamacare timeline released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee shortly after the law passed found that in 2014 alone, 27 separate Obamacare programs and requirements take effect.

Delaying only the mandates and new entitlements, in other words, would leave dozens of other Obamacare programs ready to launch, from additional costly mandates on state Medicaid programs to a new Medicare payment model for community health centers.

Second, merely delaying—as opposed to defunding—the law would allow Obamacare’s regulators to continue their work, strangling the economy by imposing more government red tape. Regulators could continue to enforce the Health and Human Services (HHS) anti-conscience mandate and issue new Obamacare rules raising costs and premiums for struggling businesses and families alike. The way to stop the Red Tape Tower involves full defunding, because it’s the only way to ensure Obamacare’s regulators will cease their destructive work.

Because full defunding will stop all of Obamacare’s programs and all of its new regulations, it is the strongest play for those who want to stop Obamacare cold. Obamacare isn’t just about taxes and subsidies—it is about a series of massive new encroachments created by the federal government. Defunding of Obamacare will ensure that those encroachments cease.

We should not buy into the false assumption that efforts to defund Obamacare equate to a shutdown of the federal government. Heritage and others have pushed for Congress to fully fund regular government operations and separate Obamacare from annual appropriations. But conservatives of either party in Congress have no leverage on any of these critical issues unless the President believes that he will have to assume the responsibility of a government shutdown.

Conservatives want to keep the federal government open. We just want to shut down Obamacare.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Obamacare Is a Fraudster’s Paradise

Ever wonder why government programs are so rife with waste, fraud and abuse? Consider what’s been happening with the Affordable Care Act.

The administration recently announced that was reducing by 50 percent — from 30 hours down to 20 — the required training for the law’s navigators, individuals paid to help Americans enroll in the health care act’s new entitlements.

The administration has thrown numerous other requirements overboard in its drive to get the law’s exchanges up and running by Oct. 1. Unfortunately, many of the requirements being jettisoned were designed to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent properly.

As a result, the law is shaping up as a fraudster’s paradise — a potential “Wild West” where individual citizens and taxpayers as a whole can easily get scammed.

Take the administration’s decision to put Americans on the “honor system” when it comes to qualifying for exchange subsidies next year. That decision will have two significant effects.

The law says that only individuals who lack access to “affordable” coverage through their employers should qualify for the subsidies. But in reality, the administration will have to take applicant’s claims at face value, because they won’t be able verify their accuracy. As the Associated Press noted, “a scofflaw could lie, and there’s no easy way to check” — a great recipe for fraud.

Second, the administration will conduct limited checks of applicants’ income, giving individuals a strong incentive to under-report their earnings on their application, to receive the maximum possible insurance subsidy. Individuals can lowball their income numbers on the application, and receive thousands — even tens of thousands — of dollars in taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies. While those who receive subsidies improperly will have to pay some of the subsidies back, in many cases individuals can receive much more in improper subsidies than Obamacare ever requires them to repay.

You might think that the federal government itself, or its contractors creating the exchanges, would have the tools to protect taxpayer dollars from being abused through these loopholes. But the contractor that just won a multi-year contract valued at up to $1 billion to verify exchange applicants’ claims was just placed under investigation in Britain for over-billing the British government to the tune of tens of millions of pounds.

In addition to fraud against the federal government, the health-care law could also lead to a rise in fraud against individual Americans. The training program prescribed by the government does not require anti-fraud training for navigators. It also does not require “minimum eligibility criteria and background checks” for those participating in the program.

The lack of background checks means scam artists could easily use the navigator program to prey on vulnerable individuals. Even California’s insurance commissioner — a strong supporter of the law — said, “We can have a real disaster on our hands” when it comes to navigators.

More than three years ago, Nancy Pelosi famously claimed that we had to pass the law to find out what’s in it. Over the past several months, we have seen a series of announcements and policies that show why it could be a fraudster’s dream — and a nightmare for the American taxpayers who will pay the bill for con artists’ scams.

This post was originally published in McClatchy.

Can Appropriations Bills Defund Obamacare?

  • Some have argued that because much of Obamacare constitutes “mandatory” spending— namely, new entitlements such as the massive Medicaid expansion and exchange insurance subsidies—Congress is powerless to defund the entire law as part of its annual appropriations bills. These claims are false.
  • Congress routinely enacts changes to mandatory spending programs as part of its annual appropriations process. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recognizes these changes when analyzing spending bills and scores them as CHiMPS—changes in mandatory program spending.
  • In February 2011, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1—legislation intended to reduce federal spending by $100 billion, consistent with House Republicans’ “Pledge to America.” CBO found 23 pages’ worth of CHiMPS in the House-passed version of H.R. 1. These reductions in mandatory spending ran the gamut from $26 million in savings over one year, and $74 billion in savings over ten years, achieved by reducing the maximum Pell Grant award (Section 1831), to $30 million in savings achieved by reducing mandatory appropriations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Section 1517).
  • Congress has already defunded mandatory programs within Obamacare—and done so through appropriations measures. Section 1857 of the continuing resolution Congress enacted in April 2011 (P.L. 112-10) “permanently cancelled” $2.2 billion in mandatory funding to Obamacare’s co-op health insurance program.
  • Congress has also defunded elements of health care entitlements for decades. Every year since 1976, Congress has enacted the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion. This provision, enacted as part of discretionary appropriations legislation, prohibits abortion coverage in the Medicaid entitlement program.
  • Historically, Congress has used the “power of the purse” broadly to make key policy statements through defunding. For instance, in 1982 Congress acted to block the Reagan Administration’s policy for supporting the Contra forces opposing the Nicaraguan government. As part of Public Law 97-377, Congress prohibited both the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency from furnishing military equipment and support to any group for the purpose of overthrowing the Nicaraguan government. Even though defense spending is not funded through mandatory appropriations, the example demonstrates that defunding has been—and remains—a powerful tool Congress can use to affect public policy.
  • Given the examples above, and numerous others, it is beyond dispute that Congress can use its power of the purse to defund Obamacare—both its mandatory and discretionary spending—in appropriations legislation this fall. The lone remaining question is whether Congress can summon the political will to do so.

This Fact Sheet was originally published by The Heritage Foundation.

Morning Bell: The Next Threat to Your Privacy

Who has access to your Social Security number, your bank information, and your tax records?

When Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges open, your data could be exposed to shysters and hackers, thanks to serious vulnerabilities in the system.

The exchanges are scheduled to open on October 1 (just 53 days away). But the list of implementation failures keeps growing, and the security of Americans’ data is threatened.

THREAT #1: Obamacare “Navigators”

Navigators are a group of people and organizations that are going to be facilitating signups for Obamacare’s insurance exchanges.

  • Example: Planned Parenthood has applied for navigator grants to work with consumers.
  • Danger: HHS will not require navigators to undergo “minimum eligibility criteria and background checks.” The Administration’s training program does not require navigators to participate in anti-fraud classes. And many states do not have plans for investigating unscrupulous navigators who may attempt to prey on vulnerable and unsuspecting Americans. Even California’s Democratic insurance commissioner—a strong supporter of Obamacare—admitted “we can have a real disaster on our hands” if scam artists posing as navigators get access to applicants’ Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and other personal information.

THREAT #2: Obamacare’s Data Hub

The data hub is a massive compilation of tax filings, Social Security reports, and other government data that will be used to determine eligibility for subsidized insurance.

  • Insecure? The hub isn’t scheduled to be certified as secure until September 30—only one day before the exchanges open for business.
  • Cutting Corners: The HHS inspector general recently released a report highlighting major delays in implementation of Obamacare’s data hub. The report amplifies what former HHS officials have been saying for months: The Administration has been cutting corners on data privacy for the exchanges, raising major questions about whether the data on the hub can be certified as secure—or whether Obamacare will place Americans’ tax and other personal information at risk.

The Obama Administration’s shoddy, slapdash approach to Obamacare implementation is placing the sensitive personal data of millions of Americans at risk. It’s one more reason why Congress should refuse to spend a single dime implementing this unfair, unworkable, and unpopular law.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Obamacare: Taking Away Americans’ Health Coverage

In Indianapolis, married couple Rod Coons and Florence Peace are satisfied with their current health insurance coverage:

I’d prefer to stay with our current plan because it meets our needs.

Unfortunately, that’s not possible—because Obamacare’s government bureaucrats are forcing Coons and Peace off their health plan. As Kaiser Health News notes this morning, this couple’s current insurance won’t qualify as “government-approved” coverage under Obamacare, meaning they will have to find different coverage.

Coons knows that his current plan has a $10,000 deductible—and he’s comfortable with that fact. He says, “I’m only really interested in catastrophic coverage” in the event of a medical emergency like a heart attack. But Washington bureaucrats who think they know better will force him to change health insurance plans to meet Obamacare’s mandate to purchase insurance.

Sadly, many Americans find themselves in the same position. Kaiser Health News reports on the widespread outrage one online broker received when telling clients that their insurance does not meet Obamacare’s standards:

When online health insurance vendor ehealthinsurance.com began notifying people in non-grandfathered plans that they would have to change policies next January, they got so many calls that they shut down the planned week-long email campaign after one day. “The people that received the email were not happy at all,” says Carrie McLean, the website’s director of customer care. “They said, ‘What are you talking about? I thought I was already on an [Obamacare] plan.’”

And while Obamacare’s supporters claim the law will reduce costs, the additional mandated benefits included in the new “government-approved” insurance policies will actually raise overall health spending. The Congressional Budget Office concluded that for individuals buying health insurance on their own, the law’s mandates would lead to an “induced increase” in health spending, due to an “increase in enrollees’ use of medical care resulting from lower cost-sharing.” In other words, by increasing subsidies for health care, Obamacare will raise—not lower—both insurance premiums and overall health spending.

Meanwhile, Rod Coons is left to ponder what will happen when he loses his existing health coverage:

I’m happy with where I’m at right now, but it doesn’t look like that’s where I’m going to be at in the future.

Many Americans share his concerns about the future of their health coverage. It’s why Congress should refuse to spend a single dime implementing Obamacare.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.