Morning Bell: Ten Ways Obamacare Isn’t Working

Obamacare is an unworkable law.

It’s obvious because the Administration keeps trying to “fix” it—to no avail. It has delayed parts of the law, ignored others, and carved out exemptions for its political allies.

1. WAIVERS: The Administration established a legally questionable program of temporary waivers when firms announced they were considering dropping coverage rather than comply with the law’s costly requirements. Even though more than half of the recipients of these waivers were members of union plans, many union leaders are still not satisfied—they want another waiver, to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies for their employer-provided coverage.

2. ILLEGAL TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES FOR CONGRESS: Last month, following heavy lobbying from leaders in both parties—and an intervention from President Obama himself—the Administration issued a rule regarding coverage for Members of Congress and their staffs, who will retain their taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies in the exchanges. Unfortunately, as previous research has documented, the Administration had no legal basis on which to make this ruling.

3. EMPLOYER MANDATE: In July, the Administration announced it would not enforce Obamacare’s employer mandate until 2015, effectively granting big business a one-year delay. This action came despite language in Section 1514(d) of the law requiring employers to act “beginning after December 31, 2013,” and despite the fact that hard-working Americans are not getting a delay from the other harmful effects of Obamacare.

4. PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: Immediately after Obamacare was signed, Democratic staffers admitted that under the law as written, insurers “still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem.” The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took it upon itself to issue regulations prohibiting plans from turning down such applicants three years earlier than the law required. As a result, insurers stopped offering child-only plans in 17 states, fearing that only parents of sick children would apply for insurance coverage.

5. OUT-OF-POCKET CAPS: Section 1302(c)(1) of the law includes caps on out-of-pocket expenses and explicitly states they are to take effect “beginning in 2014.” But earlier this year, the Administration delayed these new caps from taking effect as scheduled. What’s more, as The New York Times reported, the Administration made this unilateral change not by issuing rules subject to public comment, but by posting a series of questions and answers on an obscure website.

6. BASIC HEALTH PLAN: This government-run health plan for people above the Medicaid income level was created in Section 1331 of Obamacare as a way to promote “state flexibility,” but the Administration unilaterally delayed it for one year. One Democratic Senator criticized the Administration for this move, saying it does not “live up” to the law as written.

7. TAX DISCLOSURES: Section 9002 of Obamacare requires employers to report the value of workers’ health insurance on W-2 filings, effective for all “taxable years after December 31, 2010.” But the Administration unilaterally delayed this requirement, and employers did not have to report these data until after the 2012 presidential election.

8. HONOR SYSTEM: In July, the Administration announced it was placing most Americans on the “honor system” when it came to verifying their income and access to employer-provided health coverage. As prior research has documented, this move, coupled with loopholes written into the law, gives many Americans a strong incentive to “game the system” and obtain more in taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies than they should actually receive.

9. PRIVACY: Former HHS General Counsel Michael Astrue, when serving as Commissioner of Social Security earlier this year, complained strongly within the Administration about the security risks posed by Obamacare’s new data hub. However, the Administration overrode his objections, using what Astrue called “an absurdly broad interpretation of the Privacy Act’s ‘routine use’ exemption.”

10. TOBACCO PENALTIES: Section 1201 of the law allows insurance companies to charge smokers up to 50 percent more in premiums. But due to a “computer glitch,” those penalties will be limited for “at least a year”—meaning non-smokers may have to pay more as a result.

In the end, Nancy Pelosi was wrong. Congress passed the bill, but we still don’t know what’s in it—because the Obama Administration keeps changing rules and ignoring the law. That’s why Congress should use its power of the purse and stop a single dime from being spent on this unworkable, unfair, and unpopular measure.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Liberal Group Makes the Case Against Obamacare

Yesterday, the Commonwealth Fund released a report attempting to argue that low-income individuals will benefit if states expand their Medicaid programs under Obamacare. But in reality, the study made a more effective case against Obamacare than it did in favor of the law.

The Commonwealth report’s most revealing evidence comes in Exhibit 2, reproduced below. According to Commonwealth’s own survey data, fewer than one in 10 (9 percent) of Americans were always uninsured during the period 2011-2012. Among adults with incomes above 133 percent of the poverty level (just under $15,000 for a single person), only one in 20 (5 percent) Americans lacked health insurance for all of 2011 and 2012.

Commonwealth

It’s a point worth emphasizing again: During a two-year period following the most severe economic downturn in generations, fewer than one in 10 Americans consistently lacked health insurance coverage. And some portion of that 9 percent consists of non-citizens, who are ineligible for most taxpayer-funded assistance programs anyway.

All of which raises the obvious question: Did it really require a 2,700-page bill, more than 20,000 pages of regulations, $1 trillion in tax increases, and massive dislocation in insurance markets to “solve” a problem affecting a relatively small percentage of Americans…? The answer is obvious: It did not—at least not if the focus was on reforming the health system, as opposed to expanding government power.

The Commonwealth survey does indicate that a larger percentage of individuals—nearly one in four (23 percent) Americans—experienced some period without health insurance during a two-year period. That suggests that policymakers can and should do more to make insurance portable, particularly as individuals move from job to job.

But the Commonwealth study actually undermines the case for Obamacare, including the law’s costly expansion of the ineffective Medicaid program. The survey data demonstrate how the law is a massive, government-centric overkill of the problems in our health care system—the equivalent of killing an ant with a cruise missile—which is why Congress should stop the law now before it takes root.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Clinton Tries to Sell Obamacare, But That Dog Won’t Hunt

Earlier today, former President Clinton spoke about Obamacare in Little Rock, reprising his role as “explainer-in-chief” to tell the American people how well Obamacare is working now, and will work when the exchanges launch in just 26 days.

But as Bill Clinton himself might say, that dog won’t hunt. Contrary to his claims, the law is not reducing costs, is causing people to lose their health coverage, and does not provide states with flexibility to implement the measure:

  • President Clinton claimed that the law would make health coverage more affordable. But the law hasn’t met then-Senator Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to reduce premiums by $2,500 per family—not by a country mile. Instead, premiums have gone up for the average employer plan—and the mandates included in Obamacare will raise costs and premiums beginning next year for many families.
  • President Clinton claimed that people who currently have coverage largely wouldn’t be affected by the law. But many Americans are losing coverage—because their plan doesn’t meet new government-imposed standards, or because their insurance company is dropping out of state markets. Many other Americans are being affected by the higher costs of Obamacare, as recent disclosures by firms like UPS and Delta indicate. And multiple unions agree that the law will “destroy the very health and well-being of our members along with millions of other hard-working Americans.”
  • President Clinton claimed that states would have more flexibility to implement the law. But even liberals have admitted that the supposed “flexibility” works only one way—states are allowed only to increase regulations and government involvement, not decrease them.
  • President Clinton claimed that if states don’t expand Medicaid, their tax dollars would go to other states to fund Obamacare’s coverage expansions. That’s just not accurate. If states don’t expand Medicaid, those tax dollars would stay in the federal Treasury—and what’s more, their state budgets would be better for it, because Obamacare will cost state budgets a bundle.

As to Clinton’s claim that those who oppose the law should try to fix it rather than repealing it, President Obama has committed to repeal the sequester—a provision the President himself signed into law. If President Obama believes the sequester is so harmful that it should be repealed—and the Administration is threatening to shut down the federal government if the sequester is not repealed—then why should conservatives abandon their belief that Obamacare is so harmful that it should be repealed?

The answer is simple. Liberals didn’t abandon their belief in a government-centric scheme for health care after President Clinton’s failed effort in the 1990s. Likewise, conservatives should not now abandon their belief—based on all the implementation failures to date—that Obamacare won’t deliver for the American people. It is so unworkable that it should be defunded and repealed.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

How Obamacare Threatens Privacy in America

A PDF of this Issue Brief is available on the Heritage Foundation website.

Over the past several months, a stream of reports from government auditors and news stories has raised serious questions about the Administration’s implementation of Obamacare and its effects on the privacy of millions of Americans. The reports paint a portrait of an Administration casting aside security concerns—potentially putting Americans’ financial and health data at risk—in its push to open insurance exchanges in all 50 states by October 1. These recent developments should provide further impetus for Congress to defund the entire law before the exchanges are able to undermine personal privacy.

Security Delays, Timetables Slipping

In August, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general released a report highlighting many missed deadlines with respect to the security measures surrounding the Obamacare data hub.[1] The hub will provide access to government data from various government agencies—tax filings and Social Security records, for example—allowing exchanges to determine eligibility for subsidized insurance.

The inspector general’s report found that “several critical tasks remain to be completed in a short period of time” in order to ensure the data hub’s security.[2] Important elements of the security testing were delayed by two months. As a result, the official certification that the data hub is secure is not scheduled to occur until September 30, 2013—one day before the exchanges are scheduled to open for business.[3]

The inspector general’s report noted the obvious problem that this tight timetable presents: “If there are additional delays…the authorizing official may not have the full assessment of implemented security controls needed for the security authorization decision by” the time open enrollment begins.[4] In other words, government officials could face a choice about whether to open the exchanges despite the potential risk to Americans’ data security. Even if the security assessments are completed on time, there is no assurance they will work properly; the inspector general’s report “did not review the functionality of the [data] hub.”[5]

Warnings Ignored

Some government officials have warned of the privacy and security implications arising from shoddy data security—even as the Obama Administration ignored those concerns. Michael Astrue, a former general counsel of HHS, offered objections while serving as the commissioner of Social Security through February 2013. He has called the Administration’s exchange portal “an overly simplistic system without adequate privacy safeguards”:

The system’s lack of any substantial verification of the user would leave members of the public open to identity theft, lost periods of health insurance coverage, and exposure of address for victims of domestic abuse and others.[6]

Astrue dubbed the version of the portal “the most widespread violation of the Privacy Act in our history,” noting that both he and the head of the IRS “raised strong legal objections” with the Office of Management and Budget—objections that, Astrue argues, have been ignored in favor of what he calls “an absurdly broad interpretation of the Privacy Act’s ‘routine use’ exemption.”[7]

Navigators Pose a Security Risk

While the data hub creates concerns that Americans could be subjected to electronic identity fraud, Obamacare’s “navigators” could subject Americans to in-person scams.[8] HHS recently announced it was lowering by one-third—from 30 hours to 20—the minimum training time for navigators.[9] As a result, individuals can be certified as navigators with fewer than three full days’ training—and few security checks. While guidelines regarding navigators released in July permitted states to establish “minimum eligibility criteria and background checks” for navigators, it did not require them to do so.[10]

Because their job involves helping Americans figure out their insurance options, navigators will often have access to sensitive personal information—bank accounts, Social Security numbers, insurance identification, and more. Yet navigators will not be required to undergo background checks, and the process for filing complaints about unscrupulous navigators remains unclear at best. Even California’s insurance commissioner—a Democrat and strong supporter of Obamacare—raised concerns that navigators would put consumers at risk for scams: “We can have a real disaster on our hands.”[11]

Not One Dime

Federal agencies have already encountered difficulties preserving the integrity of Americans’ sensitive information. Earlier this year, a medical provider in California sued the IRS for improperly seizing 60 million records of 10 million Americans.[12] Yet under Obamacare, the IRS and other federal agencies will hold more new powers and have access to even more of Americans’ personal health and financial information.

In its mad rush to implement its unworkable law, the Obama Administration has taken a slapdash and shoddy approach to Americans’ personal security. Given these stakes, the choice for Congress could not be clearer: Congress should preserve Americans’ privacy by refusing to spend another dime implementing Obamacare.

 


[1]Gloria Jarmon, “Memorandum Report: Observations Noted During the OIG’s Review of CMS’s Implementation of the Health Insurance Exchange—Data Services Hub,” Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Report A-18-13-30070, August 2, 2013, http://oig.hhs.gov/oas/reports/region1/181330070.pdf (accessed August 29, 2013).

[2]Ibid., p. 1.

[3]Ibid., p. 5.

[4]Ibid., p. 5.

[5]Ibid., p. 2.

[6] Michael Astrue, “Privacy Be Damned,” The Weekly Standard, August 5, 2013, http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/privacy-be-damned_741033.html (accessed August 29, 2013).

[7]Ibid.

[8]For more information on the navigator program, see Alyene Senger, “The Cost of Educating the Public on Obamacare,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 3983, July 1, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/07/public-outreach-on-obamacare-cost-of-educating-the-public-on-health-care-reform.

[9]Amy Schatz, “Preparations for Health Exchanges on Tight Schedule,” The Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324170004578638100820728288.html (accessed August 29, 2013).

[10]“Department of Health and Human Services: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Exchange Functions: Standards for Navigators and Non-Navigator Assistance Personnel; Consumer Assistance Tools and Programs of an Exchange and Certified Application Counselors; Final Rule,” Federal Register, Vol. 78, No. 137 (July 17, 2013), p. 42824, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-07-17/pdf/2013-17125.pdf (accessed August 29, 2013).

[11]“Fraud Fear Raised in California’s Health Exchange,” The Reporter, July 14, 2013, http://www.thereporter.com/rss/ci_23658245 (accessed August 29, 2013).

[12]Scott Gottlieb, “Suit Alleges IRS Improperly Seized 60 Million Personal Medical Records,” Forbes, May 15, 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottgottlieb/2013/05/15/the-irs-raids-60-million-personal-medical-records/ (accessed August 29, 2013).