Morning Bell: Obamacare Undermines American Values

We wrote earlier this week about the ways Obamacare discourages marriage and work. These aren’t the only traditional values it undermines.

Obamacare goes against two values that should be no-brainers: prioritizing American citizens over non-citizens, and prioritizing help for the disabled over assistance for able-bodied adults.

Prioritizing Non-Citizens Over American Citizens

Obamacare includes special provisions that allow many legal, non-citizen residents to qualify for federally subsidized insurance and, in so doing, offers these non-citizens more and better coverage options than American citizens.

The law as implemented creates two inequities that put American citizens at a disadvantage compared with non-citizens.

First, in states that expand their Medicaid programs, citizens with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level will be automatically enrolled into Medicaid, while non-citizens will receive subsidies to purchase coverage in the Obamacare exchange.

Several studies show that patients with Medicaid coverage have worse outcomes than the uninsured, and some Medicaid beneficiaries do not consider the program “real insurance.” Yet Obamacare dumps millions of American citizens into this troubled program, even as it grants many non-citizens the opportunity to pick health plans of their choosing.

Second, in states that do not expand their Medicaid programs, non-citizens will be able to purchase subsidized health insurance in the exchanges, while American citizens below 100 percent of the poverty line may not qualify for subsidized coverage at all.

It simply doesn’t make sense to offer non-citizens more and better coverage options than American citizens. This potentially encourages immigration to the United States by those seeking to benefit from taxpayer-funded welfare programs, which increases the incentives for people not to become citizens, and thus full, integral members of our civic society.

Prioritizing Able-Bodied Adults Over Disabled Americans

A public safety net is necessary for those truly in need. But by spending more than $700 billion on its massive Medicaid expansion, Obamacare puts a greater emphasis on covering able-bodied adults than the disabled, which Medicaid was originally intended to serve.

By extending health coverage to those who should be able to work, Obamacare could jeopardize the coverage of disabled Americans. And by subsidizing health coverage for millions of unemployed and underemployed, Obamacare could accelerate the development of a permanent underclass that has little financial incentive to work.

Given its poor outcomes for patients, Medicaid needs significant changes. However, true reform cannot come from adding able-bodied adults to an already overburdened program. Instead, Congress should focus on improving Medicaid’s quality of care, while restoring its emphasis on providing a safety net for the truly needy.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: How Obamacare Discourages Work and Marriage

We were told that Obamacare was supposed to be compassionate toward the needy in America.

While President Obama and his fellow liberals may have held the best of intentions while ramming Obamacare through Congress, the law’s policies are far from compassionate toward the uninsured and Americans with low and modest incomes.

In fact, the law perpetuates some of the country’s worst trends that trap people in poverty. It includes disincentives for individuals to marry and for Americans of low and modest incomes to work. Discouraging work and marriage will only perpetuate poverty and income inequality, not alleviate them.

Discouraging Work

The way Obamacare calculates federal premium subsidies and cost-sharing subsidies includes several “cliffs.” A person might qualify for a hefty subsidy at his current income, but if he gets a raise and makes a little more, that Obamacare subsidy disappears.

At these cliffs, individuals and families will actually benefit more by working less because additional earnings could cause them to lose thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Families facing these kinds of poverty traps may ask the obvious question: If I will lose so much in government benefits by earning additional income, why work?

Rather than encouraging hard work, initiative, and entrepreneurship, Obamacare instead undermines these essential American values.

Discouraging Marriage

Obamacare contains not one, but two penalties on marriage—one for families with low and moderate incomes and another for families with higher incomes. By continuing failed policies that undermine the institution of marriage, Obamacare will accelerate a root cause of income inequality in the United States.

Here’s an example. A 50-year-old non-smoker making $35,000 per year would qualify for a sizable insurance subsidy, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s insurance subsidy calculator. The individual’s premium would be capped at 9.5 percent of income, resulting in an insurance subsidy of $2,065 paid by the federal government.

However, if this 50-year-old is married to another 50-year-old who also makes $35,000 per year, the couple would receive no insurance subsidy at all. This couple would incur a marriage penalty of $4,130 in one year—equal to the $2,065 that each individual could have received if they were not married.

As Urban Institute fellow Gene Steuerle has said: “Our tax and welfare system thus favors those who consider marriage an option—to be avoided when there are penalties and engaged when there are bonuses. The losers tend to be those who consider marriage to be sacred.”

Obamacare sends a clear message that reliance on government is preferable to these traditional American values—work and marriage.

Our health care policy should not be undermining these foundations of society. For a more commonsense approach to health care reform, check this out.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: Who Is Affected by Obamacare? EVERYONE

In response to the wave of insurance cancellations hitting millions of Americans, and the admission by some on the left that President Obama’s “if you like your plan” promise was false, Obamacare’s defenders are now taking a different tack.

While the law’s supporters finally admit that some people will be worse off under the law, they now claim that those “losers” will be few and far between.

The facts speak otherwise, because few Americans will be unaffected by Obamacare’s new health care regime:

If You Have Insurance Through an Employer: The Administration claims that employer-provided coverage is not changing under Obamacare—even as it brags that Obamacare is providing better benefits to those with employer plans. Those “better benefits” are not free, however. One recent survey from consultants at Mercer found that half of large employers believe Obamacare will raise health costs by at least 2 percent next year. With the average employer plan costing more than $16,000 per family, even a 2 percent increase amounts to hundreds of dollars in added costs for employers and families every year—for “benefits” they may not have wanted to purchase absent a government order.

If You Buy Insurance Yourself: As many Americans have found in recent weeks, the odds are that those who previously purchased their own health plan will not be able to keep it. Some experts have predicted that as many as 16 million individuals could fall into this category. Individuals whose insurance has been canceled will have to buy Obamacare-compliant insurance. As a result, they may face substantially higher premiums for insurance coverage that provides a smaller network of doctors and hospitals.

If You Qualify for Subsidized Insurance: Defenders of the law would argue that these individuals are clear “winners” under Obamacare. But many of these Americans may use taxpayer subsidies to buy insurance coverage they don’t need or want—because the federal government has forced them to, and/or because Washington bureaucrats have taken away their existing plan. What’s more, the nearly $1.8 trillion in spending on exchange plans and for Medicaid will create a significant new burden for future generations of taxpayers.

If You Are a Senior Citizen on Medicare: Obamacare will affect seniors as well—because, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) famously said in 2011, Democrats “took half a trillion dollars out of Medicare in [Obamacare]” to fund the law’s new entitlements. The Administration’s non-partisan actuary concluded that the law’s unsustainable spending reductions to Medicare could cause 15 percent of hospitals to become unprofitable by 2019, and 40 percent to become unprofitable by 2050—which could have a significant impact on beneficiaries’ access to care.

The idea that “only” 3 percent of Americans will end up on the short end of a 2,700-page law remaking the nation’s health care system seems as fanciful as the President’s pledge that anyone who likes their current plan could keep it.

The facts are clear: Obamacare isn’t just unfair for a small percentage of Americans; it’s unfair for the entire country.

The American people deserve better.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: Security Violation Just the Tip of the Obamacare Iceberg

Over the weekend, Heritage brought you the exclusive story of Justin Hadley, a North Carolina man who, after learning his insurance policy was being canceled due to Obamacare, logged on to HealthCare.gov and found a big surprise—the eligibility information of another family in a different state.

It’s just the latest example of problems with the federally run insurance exchange—from design features that locked Americans out of the website, to inaccurate information about premiums, to a lack of transparency about what caused the online failures in the first place.

But Obamacare is more than just a website—and its flaws go well beyond the security violations we exposed this weekend. The violations to Americans’ personal freedom and well-being are widespread:

Violates Obama’s Promises: Across the country, millions of Americans are finding out the same news as Justin: that the insurance they have and like is being taken away from them due to Obamacare. In fact, the cancellation notices being sent due to Obamacare may well exceed the number of Americans gaining coverage as a result of the law.

Violates Families’ Pocketbooks: Justin was told that a new insurance plan with his same insurer would cost him 92 percent more in premiums. That’s because the mandates and requirements included in Obamacare are raising premiums for many Americans. A recent Heritage study found that, for those buying coverage in the private market, premiums will rise in 45 out of 50 states, in many cases doubling.

Violates Principles of Freedom: For the first time ever, Obamacare forces Americans to buy a product. And Americans don’t just have to buy health insurance—they have to buy government-approved health insurance. That’s why many Americans are losing the current coverage they have and like—because it doesn’t meet the diktats of Washington bureaucrats.

Violates Americans’ Consciences: Obamacare forces many employers to offer, and individuals to purchase, coverage that violates the core tenets of their faith regarding the protection of life. These requirements are currently being challenged in court cases across the country, as Americans protest the concept that they should have to choose between violating the law and violating their deeply held religious beliefs.

Obamacare is a deeply flawed law, and its flaws have become more apparent with each passing day. It’s not just that people’s personal data has become insecure due to government bungling—their financial security and the security of their deeply held beliefs are likewise at stake.

The American people need relief from this inherently unworkable law.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: The Obamacare Scams Are Already Starting

Heritage warned that the new Obamacare insurance exchanges could threaten your privacy—and it’s already happening, before the exchanges are even open.

In a new report, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee presented these shocking findings:

there are already numerous reports of scam artists posing as Navigators and Assisters to take advantage of people’s confusion about ObamaCare. According to recent news reports, scam artists are calling individuals and asking for information to sign them up for their “ObamaCare card,” are asking seniors for their personal information to verify their Medicare and Social Security status and are going door-to-door threatening people with prison time if they do not sign up on the spot. The Administration is keenly aware of these reports and concerns, but has thus far failed to take appropriate measures.

Even when it’s not malicious, the new Obamacare system—employing “navigators” who aren’t run through background checks or adequately trained—opens up a host of opportunities for identity theft. Last week, an employee of Minnesota’s insurance exchange (MNsure) emailed out the names and Social Security numbers of 2,400 insurance agents. The insurance broker who received the email said, “If this is happening now, how can clients of MNsure be confident their data is safe?”

Indeed.

The Oversight Committee reports that the exchange system thus far is a combination of shoddy planning and bad incentives. Navigators, who are supposed to help people sign up for the exchanges, are allowed to be paid based on the number of people they enroll in Obamacare.

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.”

The exchanges don’t open for business until October 1, but Obamacare has already led to the release of highly sensitive personal information for thousands—and the lack of planning makes it ripe for scams. Nothing about this law is working the way it was advertised, which is why the House is voting today to defund Obamacare (while still funding normal government functions). Next week, Senators will have a chance to do the same—protect their constituents from the ravages of Obamacare.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: Will Unions Want to Repeal Obamacare?

In a typical Friday afternoon “news dump,” the Treasury Department announced it could not grant unions’ request for another special Obamacare break.

This time, unions had lobbied the Administration to let union-run, multi-employer plans receive taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies on the new exchanges. These subsidies would be in addition to the tax break that multi-employer plans, like health plans offered by all employers, already receive.

Union leaders wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in July asking for the Obamacare “fix,” stating that their progressive “vision has come back to haunt us”:

When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them. Sadly, that promise is under threat. Right now, unless you and the Obama Administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.

However, despite comments by Reid that unions would get another special break, the Administration actually found one part of the law it wants to uphold—after all the waivers, delays, and illegal modifications made to other parts of Obamacare.

The question for unions is, what will they do now? Terry O’Sullivan, President of the Laborers International Union of North America, said on Wednesday that his union wants Obamacare “fixed, fixed, fixed….But if the [law] isn’t fixed…then I believe it needs to be repealed.”

O’Sullivan got his answer two days later—the Administration claims the law can’t be fixed. So will his union now call for Obamacare’s repeal?

As the old saying goes, “Better late than never.” Here’s hoping the Laborers Union, and other unions—having finally discovered that Obamacare could cost them both their jobs and their health insurance—ask Congress to stop the law now.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

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.

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.

Morning Bell: Obamacare, Simplified

With open enrollment in Obamacare’s exchanges set to start in fewer than three months, the law’s supporters are attempting to change the subject from Obamacare’s many delays and glitches. Instead, they’re mounting a campaign to sell the unpopular measure to the public.

President Obama yesterday gave a speech on Obamacare, trying to justify the fact that premiums continue to rise, violating his 2008 campaign promise to lower them by $2,500 per family per year. The Kaiser Family Foundation even released a video that attempts to simplify and explain the 2,700-page measure.

But there’s another helpful chart that shows how Obamacare will work, and it’s taken from an official report released by government auditors. Click on the image below to see how the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration explained the Obamacare enrollment process, in testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday:

President Obama's Plan to "Simplify" Your Health Care

The process for determining subsidy eligibility could require 21 different steps, involving at least five separate entities—the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service, and state exchanges—and utilizing a process called the Income and Family Size Verification Project.

Given this bureaucratic nightmare, it’s little wonder that another report from government auditors released last month said that “critical” deadlines to create the Obamacare exchanges had been missed. Nor should any be surprised that yesterday, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration testified it “is concerned that the potential for refund fraud and related schemes could increase” due to Obamacare.

Yet the Obama Administration believes spending more money will solve the problem. Just for the IRS implementation of Obamacare, the Administration requested $439.6 million for nearly 2,000 bureaucrats.

Obama yesterday attempted to portray Obamacare as defending Americans from insurance companies. But who will defend the American people from Obamacare? The law’s confusing maze of programs, regulations, and processes brings to mind Ronald Reagan’s famous maxim that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

If a picture is normally worth a thousand words, the Obamacare chart above should be worth trillions. Because Congress—seeing that Obamacare is not just too big to fail, but too big to succeed—should refuse to spend a single dime implementing this behemoth of a health care law.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.

Morning Bell: Even Unions Are Turning on Obamacare

It’s not every day that union bosses sound like conservative policy experts. But the beginning of the Obamacare letter from the heads of three major unions—the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and UNITE-HERE—to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is eerily similar to our experts’ writings.

The unions, of course, were heavy supporters of Obamacare, but even they can’t deny its effects now.

“When you and the President sought our support for the Affordable Care Act, you pledged that if we liked the health plans we have now, we could keep them,” they wrote. “Sadly, that promise is under threat.”

It gets worse:

The unintended consequences of the ACA are severe. Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios: First, the law creates an incentive for employers to keep employees’ work hours below 30 hours a week. Numerous employers have begun to cut workers’ hours to avoid this obligation, and many of them are doing so openly. The impact is two-fold: fewer hours means less pay while also losing our current health benefits.

We couldn’t agree more. In fact, not only did Heritage experts predict these outcomes, but the non-partisan Medicare actuary also concluded the law would raise health costs by hundreds of billions of dollars. The Congressional Budget Office noted that Obamacare’s employer mandate “will probably cause some employers to respond by hiring fewer low-wage workers.”

Naturally, it’s on the question of solutions that we diverge from the unions.

The union leaders’ “solution” to these problems involves yet more government spending. They want to make union-run health plans eligible for Obamacare’s subsidies—subsidies that were supposed to go to people with no health coverage. In other words, increase taxpayer spending even more because of the consequences of bigger government.

If ever there were an argument to defund Obamacare in its entirety—to do away with both the spending and the costly regulations—it’s this one. The union letter accuses Obamacare of “shattering” hard-earned benefits and destroying the foundation of the middle class. In short, “We have a problem.”

The many ways liberal leaders keep marching forward, insisting nothing’s wrong, are becoming laughable. Appearing on “Meet the Press” Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that “Obamacare has been wonderful for America.” And despite the Obama Administration’s multiple implementation failures, the Health and Human Services Department just released a video yesterday proclaiming that Obamacare is “on schedule.”

Even the law’s strongest supporters aren’t buying it any more.

This post was originally published at The Daily Signal.