For Low-Income Families, Obamacare Is the UNAFFORDABLE Care Act

Yesterday the Associated Press published an article summarizing how Obamacare’s supposed benefits may well turn out to be a mirage for many low-income workers:

It’s called the Affordable Care Act, but President Barack Obama’s health care law may turn out to be unaffordable for many low-wage workers, including employees at big chain restaurants, retail stores and hotels….Because of a wrinkle in the law, companies can meet their legal obligations by offering policies that would be too expensive for many low-wage workers. For the employee, it’s like a mirage — attractive but out of reach.

The company can get off the hook, say corporate consultants and policy experts, but the employee could still face a federal requirement to get health insurance.

Here’s how it could work: Obamacare includes numerous mandates that will raise premiums. CBS News reported this week that one survey of employers showed “Obamacare may cost more than previously thought” for many firms. Due to these new mandates, some employers may feel forced to scale back the employer’s percentage of premium costs. But as long as the employer’s insurance policies cost less than 9.5 percent of an employee’s income, the employer will not face taxes under the employer mandate—and the employee will not qualify for subsidies on the exchange.

The end result could be a no-man’s land for many low-income workers. The AP notes that a worker making $21,000 could face premium costs of as much as $1,995—and that coverage would still be viewed as “affordable” under Obamacare’s standards. In reality, the worker may not be able to pay that much in premiums—but under the law would have no other coverage option.

That’s not the only way Obamacare harms low-income families. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that under Obamacare, many workers could work fewer hours or give up working altogether. Thanks to the law’s perverse incentives, which according to CBO “will effectively increase marginal tax rates,” work will be discouraged.

What has been the Administration’s reaction to the plight of low-income families? In a word, complacency. From the AP:

White House senior communications advisor Tara McGuinness downplayed concerns. “There has been a lot of conjecture about what people might do or could do, but this hasn’t actually happened yet,” she said. “The gap between sky-is-falling predictions about the health law and what is happening is very wide.”

American families of all incomes deserve better than to be placed in a poverty trap that deprives them of health coverage while simultaneously discouraging work. They deserve better than Obamacare.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Ezra Klein Can’t Save Obamacare’s Broken Premium Promise

Ezra Klein’s column in Bloomberg this week attempted to defend then-Senator Barack Obama’s repeated promises to lower premiums by $2,500. Unfortunately for Klein, virtually all of his defenses fall short.

First, Klein claims that “there was no time frame attached to the promise.” On this count, he’s flat-out wrong. Campaign advisor Jason Furman—the President’s recent nominee to head the Council of Economic Advisors—told the New York Times in July 2008 that “We think we could get to $2,500 in [premium] savings [per family] by the end of the first term, or be very close to it.” If Klein wants to argue that Americans’ premiums have gone down by $2,500 since 2009, he’s welcome to do so—but I doubt many Americans would believe him.

Second, Klein claims that “the [health care] savings are actually materializing.” He cites a recent study from David Cutler to make his claim, but that study doesn’t actually say health costs and premiums are falling—it just says they’re rising by less than they otherwise would have. Similarly, the Administration has often cited a 2009 study from the Business Roundtable to defend its “lower premiums” claim. I don’t think many Americans would look at the chart from that study and define its projected trend—a line showing premiums going up by “only” $12,400 from 2009 to 2019—as “lowering” premiums.

Premiumchart

Source: Report to Business Roundtable by Hewitt Associates, November 2009.

Third, Klein doesn’t point out that many studies view Obamanomics, not Obamacare, as the root cause of the current slowdown in health spending. One study recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation—not exactly a group of firebrand conservatives—concluded:

Our analysis suggests that the vast majority (77%) of the recent decline in the health spending trend can be attributed to broader changes in the economy.

Of course, if Klein and the Obama Administration want to take credit for the lousy economy that’s slowing down the growth of costs, they’re welcome to do so.

Finally, Klein spends the second half of his column arguing that people on the exchanges will pay more for insurance, but will get better coverage. Trouble is, that’s not what then-Senator Obama promised. His plan promised that “For those who have insurance now, nothing will change under the Obama plan—except that you will pay less.” Klein effectively admits that neither of those provisions is true—at least some individuals will be forced to buy more expensive coverage.

The fact that Klein’s arguments are so far removed from the purported intent of Obamacare—defining premium savings down, and admitting millions of Americans will lose their current coverage and be forced into more expensive insurance—shows the massive gap between the law’s rhetoric and its reality. If he wants to mount an intellectually honest defense of the law, Klein should start by acknowledging the false promises upon which it was sold to the American people.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

For Congress, Obamacare Finally Hits Home

The quotes are certainly ominous:

  • Employees are so worried “thanks to Obamacare that they are thinking about retiring early or just quitting.”
  • Workers fear being pushed “on to the government health exchanges, which could make their benefits exorbitantly expensive.”
  • “The chatter about retiring now, to remain on the current health care plan, is constant.”
  • Employees “young and old [are] worried about skyrocketing health care premiums cutting deeply into their already small paychecks.”
  • “The focus right now is…trying to figure out how to offset potential increases in premiums.”

Those quotes could refer to any number of employers and firms dealing with the effects of Obamacare. But, as this morning’s Politico reports, the quotes taken above come from Capitol Hill, where aides are terrified of a provision in Obamacare that dumps them onto the exchanges come January 1.

Federal employees, including those on Capitol Hill, currently receive generous “corporate level” health insurance benefits and a broad range of personal plan choice—from high-cost, comprehensive plans to low-cost, high-deductible plans—that is denied the vast majority of Americans.

Like all enrollees in employer-based coverage, Capitol Hill employees (and all federal workers) get employer subsidies for the cost of their coverage. It’s a flat, fixed-dollar amount and, like all employer-based contributions, is also tax-free.

When Members and staff are forced out of their existing coverage into Obamacare’s exchanges, they will lose both the generous subsidy and the tax break. Many on Capitol Hill will not qualify for subsidies in the exchanges—just like many private-sector employees who will lose their existing coverage.

Members and staff have another big problem. Obamacare was drafted so clumsily that it’s unclear precisely how placing Members of Congress and their staff in exchanges will work. Politico notes that “there has been no guidance” from the Office of Personnel Management on the issue, and fear levels have been rising as a result.

This is what happens when we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it.

The Politico story really just shows the broader themes that have been playing out around the country: Regulators causing uncertainty for businesses and their workers? Check. Skyrocketing premiums in the exchanges? Check. Firms dumping their workers onto exchanges? Check. In other words, all of Obamacare’s chickens have finally come home to roost on Capitol Hill.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Pediatric Research Bill: Obamacare’s Road to Rationing?

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

Later this month, the House of Representatives could consider legislation regarding pediatric research.[1] Legislation regarding this issue (H.R. 1724) was first introduced in April, and a new version of the bill (H.R. 2019) was introduced in May.

Although largely similar, H.R. 1724 would require the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide a justification for any existing grants studying health economics, and would prohibit new grants until “a federal law has been enacted authorizing the National Institutes of Health to use funding specifically for health economics research.”[2] Press reports indicate that H.R. 2019 excludes the restrictions included in H.R. 1724 “in order to please Democrats who favor the research.”[3]

This is a mistake. The House should ensure that H.R. 1724’s proposed restrictions on health economics research remain in any NIH-related legislation that comes to the House floor. To do otherwise would provide tacit approval to Obamacare’s road to government-rationed health care.

Proposed Restriction a Necessary Protection

The provision omitted from H.R. 2019 would have instituted an important and necessary protection on taxpayer-funded research on cost-effectiveness in health care. In recent years, the federal government has funded numerous such studies. For instance, a June 2011 Government Accountability Office report examining projects funded by the “stimulus” highlighted NIH grants studying the cost-effectiveness of various medical treatments, including:

  • “A Comprehensive Model to Assess the Cost-Effectiveness of Patient Navigation,”
  • “Cost-Effectiveness of Hormonal Therapy for Clinically Localized Prostate Cancer;”
  • “Clinical and Cost-Effectiveness of Biologics in Rheumatoid Arthritis,” and
  • “Cost-Effectiveness of HIV-Related Mental Health Interventions.”[4]

Liberals Favor Cost-Effectiveness Research

Setting aside the wisdom of using taxpayer funds to examine the cost-effectiveness of various treatments, such research could eventually be used to deny patients access to certain kinds of care. Quotes from key policymakers reveal how some would use cost-effectiveness research as a way for government bureaucrats to block access to treatments that are deemed too costly:

  • Former Senator Tom Daschle (D–SD), President Obama’s first choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, wrote in 2008 that “we won’t be able to make a significant dent in health-care spending without getting into the nitty-gritty of which treatments are the most clinically valuable and cost effective. That means taking a harder look at the real costs and benefits of new drugs and procedures.”[5]
  • In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, President Obama argued that “the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here.… There is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place.”[6]
  • Former Medicare Administrator Dr. Donald Berwick, in his infamous 2009 interview, strongly argued in favor of taxpayer-funded cost-effectiveness research when stating that “the decision is not whether or not we will ration care—the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.”[7]

Lawmakers have already expressed their desire to use cost-effectiveness research to restrict access to certain treatments. A report prepared by the House Appropriations Committee in 2009, discussing “stimulus” funding for the types of projects highlighted above, noted that thanks to the research funding, “those items, procedures, and interventions that are most effective to prevent, control, and treat health conditions will be utilized, while those that are found to be less effective and in some cases more expensive will no longer be prescribed.”[8]

Road to Rationing

Although research comparing the relative merits and costs of medical treatments may sound appealing, past experience has demonstrated that such research can, and often is, used as a blunt tool by governments to restrict access to certain kinds of care. At a time when genetic advances have opened the door to personalized medical treatments, Obamacare has moved health policy in the opposite direction, expanding the federal bureaucracy in an attempt to micromanage the health care system.[9]

Imposing the restrictions on cost-effectiveness research included in H.R. 1724 would represent a good first step in restoring the balance between federal bureaucrats and patients.

 



[1]Daniel Newhauser, “Mindful of Previous Defeat, Cantor Pushes Bill to Increase Pediatric Research,” Roll Call, June 10, 2011, http://www.rollcall.com/news/mindful_of_previous_defeat_cantor_pushes_bill_to_increase_pediatric-225436-1.html?zkPrintable=true (accessed June 13, 2013).

[2]The Kids First Research Act of 2013, H.R. 1724, § 4.

[3]Newhauser, “Mindful of Previous Defeat.”

[4]U.S. Government Accountability Office, HHS Research Awards: Use of Recovery Act and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Funds for Comparative Effectiveness Research, GAO-11-712R, June 14, 2011, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11712r.pdf (accessed June 13, 2013).

[5]Tom Daschle, Scott Greenberger, and Jeanne Lambrew, Critical: What We Can Do about the Health Care Crisis (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008), pp. 172–173.

[6]David Leonhardt, “After the Great Recession,” The New York Times, April 28, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03Obama-t.html (accessed June 13, 2013).

[7]Biotechnology Healthcare, “Rethinking Comparative Effectiveness Research,” June 2009, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2799075/pdf/bth06_2p035.pdf (accessed June 13, 2013).

[8]Helen Evans, “Comparative Effectiveness in Health Care Reform: Lessons from Abroad,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2239, February 4, 2009, note 3, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2009/02/comparative-effectiveness-in-health-care-reform-lessons-from-abroad.

[9]Kathryn Nix, “Comparative Effectiveness Research Under Obamacare: A Slippery Slope to Health Care Rationing,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2679, April 12, 2012, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/04/comparative-effectiveness-research-under-obamacare-a-slippery-slope-to-health-care-rationing.

How Obamacare — And Big Hospitals — Will Raise Health Costs

The New York Times published a column highlighting one way Obamacare will raise health costs: by promoting hospital industry consolidation that will force prices higher.

The Times highlighted the case of two Chicago-area hospital systems whose merger was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in 2000. The article notes that one hospital CEO “had told his board that the deal would ‘increase our leverage, limited as it might be,’ the investigation found, and ‘help our negotiating posture’ with managed care organizations.”

The other hospital’s CEO said that “it would be real tough for any of the Fortune 40 companies in this area…to walk from [the merged hospital group] and 1,700 of their doctors.” The end result of the merger:

It was a great deal for the hospitals. The fees they charged to insurers soared. One insurer, UniCare, said it had to accept a jump of 7 to 30 percent for its health maintenance organizations and 80 percent for its preferred provider organizations.

Aetna said it swallowed price increases of 45 to 47 percent over a three-year period. “There probably would have been a walkaway point with the two independently,” testified Robert Mendonsa, an Aetna general manager for sales and network contracting. “But with the two together, that was a different conversation.”

And who was left holding the bag? Not the shareholders of UniCare or Aetna. It was the people who bought their policies, who either paid higher premiums directly or whose wages grew more slowly to compensate for the rising cost of their company health plans.

Industry mergers give hospitals more market clout to raise prices—and those higher, “take it or leave it” prices are passed on to all Americans in the form of higher insurance premiums.

What has Obamacare done to solve this problem? It’s made it worse. The Times quotes Martin Gaynor, an expert on industry consolidation, about this “potentially troubling” aspect of the law:

Professor Gaynor, for instance, worries that accountable care organizations may prove anticompetitive. Merger activity has jumped in anticipation of the law’s coming fully into effect.

“Hospitals want to maintain their revenue streams and enhance their bargaining leverage,” said Professor Gaynor. “This [i.e., Obamacare] is a way to do so.”

Obamacare as a way for hospitals to “enhance their bargaining leverage”? No wonder they endorsed the law. However, the American people will be paying the price—quite literally—for years to come.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: The IRS, Obamacare, and You, By the Numbers

Chilling new details emerged yesterday about the IRS targeting scandal, as representatives from six conservative groups testified before Congress about the scrutiny and demands they faced from Obama administration bureaucrats.

Yesterday’s testimony reminded us once again why Washington bureaucrats cannot be trusted, and why Americans should be so concerned about the new powers granted to the IRS as a result of Obamacare.

These powers are so vast, in fact, they’re difficult to put into words. So instead, we decided to give you the numbers:

18New taxes in Obamacare, including 12 that directly violate then-Senator Barack Obama’s “firm pledge” to those making under $250,000 per year that he would not “raise any of your taxes.”

47—New provisions Obamacare charges the IRS with implementing, according to the Government Accountability Office.

$695Tax for not buying “government-approved” health insurance the IRS will be charged with enforcing on all Americans.

1,954—Full-time bureaucrats the IRS wants to devote to Obamacare implementation and enforcement in the upcoming fiscal year.

60,000,000—Medical records the IRS has been charged with improperly seizing, raising concerns about whether the agency can handle the personal health insurance information all Americans will be required to submit to the IRS.

$439,584,000—The IRS’s request for new spending on Obamacare implementation in the upcoming fiscal year; the request did not specify how much of those funds the IRS will spend on the “Cupid shuffle.”

6,100,000,000—Man-hours Americans already devote to tax compliance, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate, a burden that will rise significantly thanks to Obamacare.

$1,000,000,000,000—New revenue raised by Obamacare in its first 10 years alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office, sums that will only rise in future decades.

If ever there were an argument as to why Obamacare should be repealed and defunded, these numbers—coupled with the IRS revelations of recent weeks—tell the tale.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

The IRS, Obamacare, and You: The Government Is Coming for Your Health Insurance Records

Thanks to Obamacare, all Americans will now have to submit their health insurance information to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Sadly, this new requirement comes at the same time that serious questions have been raised about the IRS’s ability to manage personal health records competently.

As American Enterprise Institute scholar Scott Gottlieb noted:

An unnamed health care provider in California is suing the IRS and 15 unnamed agents, alleging that they improperly seized some 60 million medical records of 10 million Americans, including medical records of all California state judges, on March 11, 2011.

The complaint alleges that IRS agents exceeded the scope of their search warrant, seizing not just financial records, but “information on psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual and drug treatment, and other sensitive medical treatment data.”

The alleged data seizure occurred at roughly the same time in which employees in another division of the IRS targeted tea party and other conservative groups due to their political beliefs. If true, these new allegations regarding seized medical records would further undermine trust in the IRS’s ability to conduct its affairs properly and to manage the sensitive and confidential information all Americans submit to the agency every year.

As this week’s entire series has shown, the IRS’s reach within Obamacare seemingly knows no bounds. Armed with new bureaucrats and funded by a massive spending blitz, the IRS will implement trillions of dollars in tax increases; issue new regulations, edicts, and orders; impose new paperwork burdens on all Americans; and increase the scope of government intrusion into the lives of ordinary, law-abiding citizens.

Prior to the recent scandals, many Americans thought the IRS could not be trusted to implement Obamacare in a competent and impartial manner. Now they know it. It’s one more reason why Congress should repeal Obamacare once and for all.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

The IRS, Obamacare, and You: The IRS Will Know Your Health Insurance Information

“Among the questions [Administration] officials expect people to have about [Obamacare] are…How can they fill out their tax forms correctly?” –The Washington Post, article on March 22, 2010, the day Obamacare was signed into law

Of all the provisions in Obamacare the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) oversees, the most far-reaching is the mandate for all Americans to purchase government-approved health insurance. Unprecedented in its scope—forcing all Americans to buy a product, and taxing them due to their very existence if they do not—the mandate will require Americans to submit their insurance information to the IRS.

Section 1502 of Obamacare includes pages of requirements that insurers will have to submit to the IRS documenting people’s health coverage, including individuals’ names, Social Security numbers, whether or not the health plan is “government-approved” coverage complying with the mandate, and “such other information as the [Treasury] Secretary (i.e., the IRS) may require.” Individuals will also get copies of these forms, and have to submit them to the government with their tax returns.

The IRS has yet to release the official copy of the mandate compliance form, but Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) prepared a projection of what the form might look like. Sadly, the ATR estimate of a one-page mandate form may actually underestimate the scope of the paperwork involved. Consider Massachusetts’s real-life example of the paperwork burdens necessary to ensure compliance with the mandate:

A new three-page schedule had to be completed and filed with…the state tax return. In addition, a 10-page booklet with instructions and worksheets accompanies the other instructions and worksheets for the state income tax return.

If the IRS mandate form is three pages long, it will be longer than form 1040, which most Americans use to file their taxes.

Most Americans find completing their taxes every year difficult enough as it is. According to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s annual report:

Individuals and businesses spend about 6.1 billion hours a year complying with the filing requirements of the Internal Revenue code. If tax compliance were an industry, it would be one of the largest in the United States. To consume 6.1 billion hours, the “tax industry” requires the equivalent of more than three million full-time workers.

Given the onerous paperwork burdens our country already faces thanks to the tax code, Americans do not need or want to face more bureaucratic hassles to provide personal health information to the IRS.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Paul Krugman’s California Dreamin’

Since California released its health care exchange premium rates late last week, liberals such as Paul Krugman have argued that Obamacare’s predicted “rate shock” will fail to materialize next year. At least three reasons explain why liberals’ argument falls short:

1. Dubious Assumptions About Exchange Enrollment

Some independent observers questioned whether the insurance companies in California’s exchange made favorable—and dubious—assumptions about the people who would buy insurance on the exchange next year. The Washington Post noted that “if sick people sign up en masse next year…that could dramatically increase costs for insurers, who would then have to recoup the money by increasing premiums.” One vice president at Avalere Health, a consulting firm, told the Post that a delayed premium spike could happen:

[The projected premium rates] are low enough that you have to think, are there going to be health plans in this market that are underwater…. It’s so hard to predict because you don’t know who’s going to show up on the market.

2. A Pre-Existing Preview

While no one knows who will sign up for exchange coverage next year, an Obamacare program already up and running—one established for individuals with pre-existing conditions—has attracted far sicker enrollees than first anticipated. As The New York Times reported last week:

The administration had predicted that up to 400,000 people would enroll in the program, created by the 2010 health care law. In fact, about 135,000 have enrolled, but the cost of their claims has far exceeded White House estimates, exhausting most of the $5 billion provided by Congress….

When the federal program for people with pre-existing conditions ends on Jan. 1, 2014, many of them are expected to go into private health plans offered through new insurance markets being established in every state. Federal and state officials worry that an influx of people with serious illnesses could destabilize these markets, leading to higher premiums for other subscribers.

People in the pre-existing condition program have been much sicker than actuaries predicted at the time the law passed. If that phenomenon repeats itself in the exchanges—either because only sick individuals enroll, or because employers struggling with high health costs dump their workers into the exchanges—premiums will rise significantly in future years.

3. Bait and Switch

As a column in Bloomberg notes, for all the press around California’s supposedly low exchange premiums, officials generated such spin only by comparing apples to oranges:

Covered California, the state-run health insurance exchange, yesterday heralded a conclusion that individual health insurance premiums in 2014 may be less than they are today. Covered California predicted that rates for individuals in 2014 will range from 2 percent above to 29 percent below average small employer premiums this year.

Does anything about that sound strange to you? It should. The only way Covered California’s experts arrive at their conclusion is to compare apples to oranges—that is, comparing next year’s individual premiums to this year’s small employer premiums. (Emphasis added.)

Therein lies one of Obamacare’s many flaws. Liberals now argue that while some may pay more for coverage, they will get “better” benefits in return. However, when campaigning in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama didn’t say he would raise premiums; he said he would give Americans better coverage: He promised repeatedly that he would cut premiums by an average of $2,500 per family. That gap between Obamacare’s rhetoric and its reality makes arguments such as Krugman’s seem fanciful by comparison.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

The IRS, Obamacare, and You: The Complexity

The many federal bureaucrats working on Obamacare implementation within the IRS stand at the center of an intricate web of government and regulation that will ensnare all Americans in its grasp.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year released a report with a chart showing all the bureaucratic offices and divisions within the IRS charged with carrying out Obamacare. Nowhere in the chart do the words doctor or patient appear—as clear a sign as any that Obamacare is not about health care; it’s about government power. And heading up this entire effort has been Sarah Hall Ingram, the same official previously in charge of the IRS unit that subjected conservative groups to additional scrutiny for their political beliefs.

HCchart

The GAO made clear the extent of the IRS’s involvement with Obamacare:

The Internal Revenue Services’ implementation of [Obamacare] is a massive undertaking that involves 47 separate statutory provisions and extensive coordination across not only IRS, but multiple agencies and external partners. For example, IRS must coordinate with other federal agencies and states in providing assistance to qualifying individuals for health insurance premiums.

And just in case you were wondering, here is the list of the 47 separate provisions government auditors said the IRS will need to implement as part of Obamacare:

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

 

HCtable