Tag: health insurance exchange

Does HHS Have the Authority to Tax Health Premiums in Federal Exchanges?

Remember how an adviser to the federal Department of Health and Human Services said the department would have to “get creative” on funding federal health insurance exchanges, because states were refusing to create their own and ObamaCare provides no source of funding for federal exchanges? Well, HHS released its very creative response in a Friday news dump today, and the answer is “user fees” of 3.5 percent on all health insurance plans sold through federal exchanges.

But is that a little too creative? Does HHS have the authority to tax health premiums in its exchanges? Here’s what the department’s proposed regulation says:

Federally-facilitated Exchange user fees: Section 1311(d)(5)(A) of the Affordable Care Act contemplates an Exchange charging assessments or user fees to participating issuers to generate funding to support its operations. As the operator of a Federally-facilitated Exchange, HHS has the authority, under this section of the statute, to collect and spend such user fees. In addition, 31 U.S.C. 9701 provides for an agency to establish a charge for a service provided by the agency. Office of Management and Budget Circular A-25 Revised (“Circular A-25R”) establishes Federal policy regarding user fees and specifies that a user charge will be assessed against each identifiable recipient for special benefits derived from Federal activities beyond those received by the general public. In this proposed rule, we establish a user fee for issuers participating in a Federally-facilitated Exchange.

I don’t know anything about 31 U.S.C. 9701 or Circular A-25R. But here’s the Section 1311(d)(5)(A) language upon which they rely:

NO FEDERAL FUNDS FOR CONTINUED OPERATIONS.—In establishing an Exchange under this section, the State shall ensure that such Exchange is self-sustaining beginning on January 1, 2015, including allowing the Exchange to charge assessments or user fees to participating health insurance issuers, or to otherwise generate funding, to support its operations.

A few thoughts:

  1. It is interesting that when the federal government wants to justify generating funds for their Exchanges’ operational expenses, they cite for authority a paragraph titled, “NO FEDERAL FUNDS FOR CONTINUED OPERATIONS.”
  2. The proposed regulation correctly notes that Section 1311(d)(5)(A) only “contemplates” state Exchanges charging assessments. It certainly doesn’t authorize states to make such assessments; states already have the authority to impose such levies. (They are states, after all.) Nor does it even direct states to levy user fees. It says, in essence, “You gotta fund this yourself. Here are a couple of methods. Knock yourselves out.” Since Section 1311(d)(5)(A) doesn’t give states the authority to levy such taxes, it’s hard to see how that paragraph translates into “HHS has the authority, under this section of the statute, to collect and spend such user fees” (emphasis added).
  3. Section 1311(d)(5)(A) speaks specifically of states. It makes no mention of the federal government. Lest anyone think its mention of “an Exchange” could refer to state or federal exchanges, I refer you four paragraphs up to Section 1311(d)(1), which imposes another “REQUIREMENT … An Exchange shall be a governmental agency or nonprofit entity that is established by a State.” Or is the federal government again claiming that it can establish an Exchange that is established by a state?

Again, I don’t know anything about 31 U.S.C. 9701 or Circular A-25R. But the fact that HHS also cited them makes me think they lack confidence in their claim that Section 1311(d)(5)(A) authorizes them to do this. And the fact that they listed them after their Section 1311(d)(5)(A) claim makes me wonder if they even weaker.

I’ll be looking into this. But I would be interested to hear from anyone with expertise in 31 U.S.C. 9701 or Circular A-25R.

Feds May Not Have ObamaCare Operational on Time

The Washington Post reports:

By the end of this week, states must decide whether they will build a health-insurance exchange or leave the task to the federal government. The question is, with as many as 17 states expected to leave it to the feds, can the Obama administration handle the workload.

“These are systems that typically take two or three years to build,” says Kevin Walsh, managing director of insurance exchange services at Xerox. “The last time I looked at the calendar, that’s not what we’re working with.”…

The Obama administration has known for awhile that there’s a decent chance it could end up doing a lot of this. Now though, they’re finding out how big their workload will actually become.

Betcha didn’t see that coming.

Part of the reason the workload is so heavy? “Buying health insurance is a lot more difficult than purchasing a plane ticket on Expedia.” You don’t say. But I thought that’s why we needed government to do it.

California Officials: ObamaCare ‘Exchange’ Will Hike Premiums up to 25%

California is one of the few states charging ahead on establishing one of ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges.” According to the Los Angeles Times:

California insurance officials have expressed concern about substantial rate hikes for some existing policyholders going into the exchange.

Under a new rating map approved by state lawmakers, the Department of lnsurance estimated that premiums for similar coverage could increase as much as 25% in West Los Angeles, 22% in the Sacramento area and nearly 13% in Orange County.

California officials have floated the idea of legislating lower prices. One way would be to throw West Los Angeles and Orange County into the same risk pools. That might reduce premiums in West L.A., but only by increasing premiums in Orange County. With a few simplifying assumptions, premiums in both  West L.A. and the O.C. could rise by 19 percent. An alternative would be to cap premium increases. One state official proposes a cap of 8 percent. But that would just be an implicit form of government rationing. If insurers cannot charge premiums that cover their costs, they will cover fewer services.

If Oklahoma prevails in its lawsuit against the IRS, or if any similar plaintiffs prevail, California will look pretty silly for charging forward with an Exchange. California will have imposed on its employers an unnecessary tax of $2,000 per worker – a tax that California employers can avoid by relocating to states that have not created an Exchange. It will also have unnecessarily exposed 2.6 million California residents to ObamaCare’s individual mandate – i.e., a tax of $2,085 on families of four earning as little as $24,000 per year, which those residents can likewise avoid by relocating to another state.

Watch this space for development.

HHS Offers to Pay Six Years of Operating Costs for Some States’ ObamaCare Exchanges

That’s my read of this.

ObamaCare gives HHS the authority to make unlimited grants to help states create Exchanges. But that authority expires on December 31, 2014. HHS just issued an announcement that they will issue grants right up to midnight on December 31—and that some of those grants will be so big that they will last for five years:

Q4: What is the last day that a State can spend its award?

A4: Grantees are encouraged to drawdown funding within their budget period (up to one year for Level One and up to three years for Level Two grants); however, at the recommendation of CCIIO’s State Officer and at the discretion of the Grant Management Officer, grantees may receive a no-cost extension that will allow them to spend funding up to the expiration date of the project period. At HHS’s discretion, a project period can be extended for a maximum of five years past the date of the award. Note, however, that all spending of §1311(a) funds awarded under a cooperative agreement must be consistent with the scope of the statute, FOA, and terms and conditions of the awarded cooperative agreement. [Emphasis added.]

The last sentence is there just to make sure no one suspects them of violating the law, wink-wink.

Since HHS can make unlimited grants in the first year that Exchanges are supposed to operate (2014), this means HHS is trying to pay for the operating expenses of some states’ Exchanges for six years (2014-2019).

“Conservatives’ Last Legal Option to Invalidate Obamacare”

The New Republic reports on an issue that Jonathan Adler and I have been highlighting: an IRS rule that will tax employers and subsidize private health insurance companies without congressional authorization. Why would the IRS issue such a rule? Perhaps because ObamaCare could collapse without it.

The post quotes another law professor who acknowledges the Obama administration faces a serious problem:

“It’s fairly decent textual case,” says Kevin Outterson, a professor at Boston University Law School, and health care blogger for The Incidental Economist. And if it stood, he says, the consequences could be disastrous.

Disastrous for ObamaCare, that is. But as Adler and I have written previously, if  saving ObamaCare means letting the IRS tax employers without congressional authorization, then ObamaCare is not worth saving.

‘The IRS Overstepped Its Bounds and Lacked the Power to Rewrite the Law’

Of course, that is just Reuters paraphrasing me:

Under the new healthcare law, individuals can shop and purchase health insurance through government-created exchanges. If a state refuses to set up its own exchange, the law allows the federal government to set one up instead. Due to a glitch in the original statute, individuals are only eligible for a tax credit if they buy insurance through a state exchange, not a federal one. That allows states to disrupt the system by refusing to set up their own exchanges. To fix this technical problem, the Internal Revenue Service issued a new rule, making the tax credit available for people who purchase insurance on federal exchanges. Conservative watchdogs, including Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute, say the IRS overstepped its bounds and lacked the power to rewrite the law. While no lawsuit has been filed yet, “we’re watching the whole exchange issue now,” said Diane Cohen of the Goldwater Institute.

One addition and three corrections.

  1. By spending that money illegally and issuing those illegal tax credits, the IRS is also triggering an illegal tax against employers (i.e., ObamaCare’s employer mandate).
  2. It’s not a “glitch.” It is a deliberate design feature.
  3. When the IRS lacks statutory authority to tax people or spend taxpayer dollars, but does both anyway, that lack of authority is not “technical problem.” It is called “taxation without representation.” And it is a very bad thing.
  4. I am not a conservative.

Maryland’s, Um, Enthusiasm for an ObamaCare Exchange

The Washington Post reports, “Few states have been as enthusiastic about the Affordable Care Act as Maryland.” For example, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D):

We regulate markets. We have never created markets…

I’m confident we will be successful, but it doesn’t come without a healthy dose of concern that when this thing goes live, it will do what it is intended to do.

Odd way to express enthusiasm, really.