Aetna Gun Control Donation Epitomizes Crony Capitalism

Just when conservatives couldn’t find enough reasons to oppose an Obamacare “stability” package — or the law itself — the health insurance industry generated another. Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini announced Tuesday the company would donate $200,000 to support the March for Our Lives gun control rally scheduled for later this month.

Which raises an obvious question: If a company like Aetna can afford to make a six-figure contribution to a liberal gun control effort, why exactly did health insurers spend some of Tuesday asking for taxpayers to provide a multi-billion dollar “stability” package for the Exchanges?

And when it comes to taxpayer largesse, Aetna has already received plenty. According to page 56 of its most recent quarterly financial filing, last year Aetna’s revenue from government business outstripped its private-sector commercial enterprises: Even as private sector revenues dropped the past two years, government business rose by over $4.5 billion, due at least in part to the additional revenues generated by Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

As with other health insurers, Aetna has rapidly become an extension of the state itself — a regulated utility that focuses largely on extracting more business from government. Rather than focusing on new innovations and selling product to the private sector, it instead hires more lobbyists to seek rents (e.g., a “stability” package) from government. And in exchange for such governmental payments, it promotes liberal causes that will win the company plaudits from the statists who regulate it.

Other health insurance organizations have taken much the same tack. Several years ago, the House Ways and Means Committee exposed how AARP received numerous exemptions for its lucrative Medigap plans in Obamacare. Not coincidentally, the organization had previously used its “Divided We Fail” campaign to funnel money to such liberal organizations as the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and the National Council of La Raza.

(Yes, I recognize that, technically speaking, AARP is not a health insurer. Whereas health insurers might have to place money at risk, AARP faces no such barrier, and can instead reap pure profit by licensing its name and brand.)

On Twitter Thursday evening, I asked Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini if he considers abortion a public health issue — the company’s stated reason for contributing to the March for Our Lives. If Aetna purportedly cares so much about gun violence, it should similarly care about violence against the unborn. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for Aetna to contribute to the March for Life, or any other pro-life cause.

Mind you, a private company can make contributions to whichever organizations it likes or does not like. Unfortunately, however, Aetna and many other insurers aren’t acting like private companies. In constantly begging for taxpayer dollars, they’re acting like wards of the state.

That dynamic provides conservatives with the perfect reason to oppose an Obamacare “stability” package — and support the law’s full repeal. Weaning health insurers off the gusher of taxpayer dollars Obamacare created would represent a move away from the current statist status quo. And who knows? It might — just might — get some health care companies to look beyond government as the solution to all their problems.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

What the HHS Reports on the Health Exchanges Didn’t Cover

Recent media reports have highlighted unresolved inconsistencies in applications on the new insurance exchanges, including applications for federal premium and cost-sharing subsidies. Two reports released this week by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services paint a troubling picture—and things could be worse than the reports suggest.

One HHS report examined data from federally run exchanges through Feb. 23 and from state exchanges through last December. Put another way, federal auditors tallied data from the months when the exchanges experienced middling to sluggish enrollment—not the periods when the greatest number of applications were completed.

The inspector general’s report indicates that federally run exchanges had 2.9 million data inconsistencies, of which only 1% had been resolved by late February. But those figures underestimate the number of inconsistencies from the 2014 open-enrollment period—and, unless data resolution has dramatically improved in recent weeks, probably also underestimate the number of inconsistencies still pending.

A separate inspector general’s report also released on Monday found that federally run exchanges, and state-run exchanges in California and Connecticut, in many cases lacked proper procedures for verifying applicant information. As a result, applications that should have been flagged for additional inconsistencies were not. Again, the scope of the verification problem is most likely understated.

When troubles became clear with the exchanges last fall, the focus on fixing immediate technical issues led to deferred work on verification systems. Overall, the reports expose another facet of the failures of Healthcare.gov—and the after-effects of last fall’s rollout could persist for some time.

This post was originally published at the Wall Street Journal Think Tank blog.

Day One of Obamacare’s Exchanges, By the Numbers

Obamacare’s exchanges have now been “open” (such as it is) for more than 24 hours. The results are in, and they’re not promising:

0—Enrollment navigators certified in Wisconsin in time for the start of enrollment.

0—Individuals one North Carolina insurer was able to sign up for subsidized insurance.

3—Months President Obama warned Americans could face glitches when trying to sign up.

4—Hours Maryland’s exchange opening was delayed.

7—Miles one Indiana resident drove to obtain enrollment assistance; after receiving little information and a four-page paper application, the potential applicant called the trip “a waste of time.”

22—Actual enrollees in Connecticut’s exchange out of more than 10,000 individuals who visited the website by mid-afternoon, a conversion rate of 0.22 percent.

34—Minutes one Politico reporter listened to “smooth jazz” before reaching an actual call-center representative.

35­—Minutes one MSNBC reporter spent attempting to enroll online, before finally giving up.

47—States whose exchange websites “turned up frequent error messages.”

1,289—Days between the signing of Obamacare and yesterday’s launch, a gap which prompted one insurance broker to comment, “You would just think that with all this time they’ve had to get it set up and ready to go there would have been a better premiere.”

2,400—Individuals who had their Social Security numbers and other personal data disclosed even before the exchanges opened for business.

Not only were the American people faced with major glitches surrounding the exchanges, but they also faced a wall of silence from bureaucrats when looking for explanations for the delays.

The latest in a long line of Obamacare implementation glitches and failures demonstrates how the law is inherently unworkable. It’s why Congress needs to stop Obamacare now.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.