Big Hospitals’ Obamacare Hypocrisy

As Republicans prepare legislation to repeal Obamacare, the health care industrial complex has raised a host of concerns. Notably, two hospital associations recently released a report highlighting the supposed negative implications of the reconciliation bill Congress passed, and President Obama vetoed, late last year.

While the hospitals allege that repealing Obamacare would decimate their industry, their report cleverly omits four inconvenient truths.

1. They Pushed Bad Ideas Because They Expect Bailouts

Kahn gave a simple, yet cynical, reply: “You could say, did you make a bad deal, and fortunately, I don’t think I’ll probably be working after 2020 [Laughter.]….I’m glad my contract only goes another six years. [Laughter.]”

Fast-forward those six years to earlier this fall, when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the effects of various Obamacare provisions on hospital margins. The report concluded that even under the best-case scenario—in which hospitals achieve a level of efficiency non-partisan experts doubt they can reach—the revenue from Obamacare’s coverage expansions will barely offset the negative effects of the productivity adjustments. Under the worst-case scenario, more than half of hospitals could become unprofitable by 2025, and the entire industry could face negative profit margins.

Kahn knew full well in August 2010 that Obamacare would eventually decimate his industry, through the cumulative effect of year-over-year reductions in Medicare payments. The laughter during his comments demonstrates Kahn thought it was one big joke. He and his colleagues cynically calculated first that they wouldn’t be around when those payment reductions really started to bite; and second that Congress would bail the hospitals out of their own bad deal—essentially, that hospitals are “too big to fail.”

2. Hospitals Supported Raiding Medicare to Pay for Obamacare

Last year’s reconciliation bill essentially undid the fiscal legerdemain that allowed Obamacare to pass in the first place. In the original 2010 legislation, Democrats used savings from Medicare both to improve the solvency of Medicare (at least on paper) and to fund the new entitlements.

The reconciliation bill would have repealed the new entitlements, and—in a truly novel concept—used Obamacare’s Medicare savings to…save Medicare. Instead, the hospital industry wants to continue the budget gimmickry that allows Medicare money to be spent twice and used for other projects.

3. Hospitals Believe Entitlements Are for Them, Not You

In theory, individuals receiving cash contributions in lieu of Medicaid coverage could improve their health in all sorts of ways—buy healthier food, obtain transportation to a higher-paying job, move to a better apartment closer to parks and recreation. But who would object to giving patients cash to improve their health instead of insurance? You guessed it: Hospitals.

Hospitals view Medicaid as their entitlement, not their patients’. That’s why hospitals have worked so hard for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. It’s also why they wouldn’t support diverting money from coverage into other programs (e.g., education, housing, nutrition, etc.) that could actually improve patients’ health more than insurance, which has been demonstrated not to improve physical health outcomes.

4. Insisting Health Care Is Their Personal Jobs Program

Hospitals will claim that repealing Obamacare will cost industry jobs, just as they pushed for states to expand Medicaid as a way to create jobs. But economic experts on both sides of the aisle find this argument frivolous at best. As Zeke Emanuel, a former Obama administration official, has noted: “Health care is about keeping people healthy or fixing them up when they get sick. It is not a jobs program.”

The health-care sector seems to believe they have a God-given right to consume at least one-sixth of the economy (and growing). Rebutting hospitals’ argument—that they, and only they, can create jobs—might represent the first step in lowering health costs, which would help non-health sectors of the economy grow more quickly.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

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.

Top Ten Conservative Concerns with a Medicaid Bailout

  1. States Already Received a Medicaid Bailout. In June 2008, the wartime supplemental blocked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from issuing six regulations cracking down on state transactions designed solely to increase the percentage of Medicaid spending paid for by the federal government.  Some may view the $1.6 billion moratoria on these anti-fraud regulations as a bailout in its own right, and question why states are asking for yet more relief from the federal government.
  2. Discourages States from Fighting Fraud. In September, New York State announced a record $90 million settlement from one hospital related to improper and fraudulent billing practices—the third such settlement from the same hospital in a decade.  Providing additional federal matching funds may provide a perverse disincentive for states not to recoup Medicaid dollars by pursuing anti-fraud cases vigorously.
  3. States Not Reforming Their Medicaid Programs. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that only eight states have taken advantage of language in the Deficit Reduction Act to alter their Medicaid benefit packages or introduce modest cost-sharing.  Given the structural deficiencies in many state programs—fraudulent activity, long waits for specialists, and un-coordinated care—conservatives may view a “blank check” for more state Medicaid spending without new accountability or reforms as a disservice to both the federal taxpayer and the needy beneficiaries which the program is designed to serve.
  4. Rewards States for Improper Budgeting. An Urban Institute study notes that lost revenue creates a significantly larger impact on state budgets than increased costs due to enrollment increases in programs like Medicaid.  Some conservatives may therefore view a Medicaid bailout as rewarding states who failed to project revenues accurately and/or build up adequate “rainy day” reserves.
  5. Provides No Stimulus. Because increasing the federal Medicaid match only substitutes federal spending for state dollars, even Keynesians may find it difficult to justify such a measure as providing economic “stimulus.”
  6. Medicaid Increases Private Insurance Costs. A recent study from actuaries at the consulting firm Milliman found that low reimbursement rates for public programs including Medicare and Medicaid resulted in a 12% increase in private insurance costs, as providers charged private insurers more for their services.  Some may therefore view an increase in Medicaid enrollment financed by this bailout as potentially placing additional strain on the private insurance system due to sizable cost shifting from public to private plans.
  7. Earmark for Michigan Automakers. H.R. 5268 includes language disregarding “extraordinary employer pensions” as income.  According to CMS, only one state would fall into this category—Michigan.  Some conservatives may view this provision as an authorizing earmark.
  8. Flawed FMAP Formula Encourages States to Overspend. While the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) matching formula was originally designed to provide greater assistance to poorer states, an independent analysis of CMS data indicates that states with higher concentrations of poverty actually have lower per-capita Medicaid spending—exactly the opposite result of FMAP’s intended goal.  Some conservatives may therefore be concerned that an additional FMAP bailout will do nothing to reverse this disparity, and may exacerbate it.
  9. Medicaid Spending Only Continues to Grow. An American Enterprise Institute study found that during the 1994-2000 boom years, Medicaid spending grew faster than both GDP and state revenues.  Some conservatives may therefore question whether states were irresponsible in expanding their Medicaid programs during flush economic times, and whether the federal government should reward such behavior.
  10. Exacerbates Entitlement Shortfalls. At a time when unfunded obligations for Medicare and Social Security exceed $53 trillion, some conservatives may be concerned by the impact of increasing Medicaid spending—and the federal deficit—on our ability to respond to this crisis with reforms to slow the growth of health care costs.

Weekly Newsletter: March 31, 2008

Medicare Trustees’ Report Highlights Program’s Fiscal Woes…

While Congress was in recess last week, the trustees of the Medicare Trust Funds released their annual report, which quantified the size of the fiscal obstacles facing the entitlement program. According to the trustees, the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is scheduled to be exhausted in early 2019—just over one decade from now. In addition, the trustees for the third straight year projected that Medicare is scheduled to consume a growing share of general federal revenues, “triggering” another funding warning that requires the next President to submit legislation to Congress with his (or her) budget remedying Medicare’s funding.

Of particular note in the report was the fact that while projections of future spending on hospitals (Medicare Part A) remained constant, and future estimates of physician payment levels (Medicare Part B) increased, estimated future costs for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit provided by private insurance companies decreased. As health costs continue to rise both inside and outside the Medicare program, some conservatives may believe that the benefits of competition and consumer empowerment seen in Part D could yield measurable savings if extended to the other parts of Medicare.

Here are RSC Policy Briefs on the Medicare trustees’ report and on health care cost growth. More information on the Medicare trigger—and the President’s proposals for reform—can be found here.

…While Democrats Minimize Need for Entitlement Reform

The trustees’ report also notes that in the past twelve months, the anticipated size of Medicare’s unfunded obligations has grown from $74 trillion to nearly $86 trillion. As Joe Antos of the American Enterprise Institute noted at an AEI briefing last week, the one-year increase in Medicare’s unfunded obligations is itself nearly ten times the size of the total losses anticipated from the losses in sub-prime lending markets.

Estimates of $1.2 trillion in worldwide losses due to the current credit crunch, less than half of which will hit American institutions, have sparked numerous “relief” proposals from the Democrat majority. Yet when it comes to the $86 trillion in losses on the horizon for Medicare, Democrats like Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA)—Chair of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, with prime jurisdiction over entitlement reform—refrained from demands for swift action, calling Medicare “solvent and sustainable” and claiming that “the trigger has been pulled by Republican ideologues,” when in reality the report was written by the non-partisan actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

By contrast, many conservatives believe that the ominous statistics in the trustees’ report provide further impetus for Congress to utilize the Medicare “trigger” to enact comprehensive entitlement reform this year. Every year that Congress does not address the unfunded obligations associated with Social Security and Medicare, their size grows by trillions of dollars. Some conservatives would argue that with the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund scheduled to be exhausted in just over a decade, Congress must act now to preserve the promise of Medicare for the neediest of American seniors.

Clinton Proposes Cap on Insurance Premiums, Additional Taxes

In an interview with the New York Times last week, Sen. Hillary Clinton offered additional details about the formulation of her health care plan. Clinton expressed a desire to cap insurance premiums for individuals at between 5-10% of individuals’ income. She also indicated her support for restrictions requiring health insurance companies to pay out a defined percentage of premium costs on health benefits (as opposed to administrative costs or profits). And she advocated an increase in the tobacco tax to finance health care reform, despite the dwindling base of smokers left to pay such taxes: “At some point, there’s going to be diminishing returns. But, sure, why not? I don’t have any objection to that.”

However, some conservatives may have objections to the Clinton approach, starting with a tobacco tax that may encourage counterfeiting and result in a long-term fiscal imbalance leading to more taxes once tobacco revenues dwindle. Both capping premiums on individuals and mandating that insurers pay a high percentage of premiums in health benefits would constitute significant government price controls on an industry that spends more than one in six dollars consumed in the United States. And some conservatives may share the concerns of MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, who generally supports Clinton’s approach but conceded that a cap on insurance premiums at 5% of income would not be “realistic” because of the heavy government subsidies necessary to finance the difference.

Instead of a heavy-handed approach that relies on additional government regulation and taxation, many conservatives support principles that rely on consumer empowerment. Unleashing the forces of competition, and providing financial incentives for individuals to curb marginal spending on health care, represents the best way to bring down costs and ensure access to care.

Article of Note: A Cry on the Left for Freedom

Just before the recess, former Senator and Presidential candidate George McGovern (D-SD) published an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal advocating a greater role for consumers in several segments of the economy, including health care. Noting the growing array of state benefit mandates on health insurance plans while premium costs continue to rise, McGovern criticizes the “health-care paternalism” whereby “states dictate that you [have] to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.” McGovern also notes support for the idea of buying health insurance across state lines, where plan premiums may be more reasonable—a principle supported by many conservatives and introduced by RSC Member John Shadegg (R-AZ) in H.R. 4460, the Health Care Choice Act.

The fact that an icon of the Left such as Sen. McGovern can decry the growth of government regulation as a development consistent with paternalism demonstrates the incapacity of the public sector to respond to challenges such as the rapid growth in health care costs. Many conservatives believe that only through a freer market—and common-sense solutions like buying health insurance across state lines— will America finally come to take control of its skyrocketing expenditures on health care.

Read the article here: The Wall Street Journal: “Freedom Means Responsibility” (subscription required)