Tag: health insurance exchanges

Exactly What Is Max Baucus Saying Here? (Updated)

At a packed Cato Institute briefing on Capitol Hill yesterday, Jonathan Adler and I debated ObamaCare expert Timothy Jost over an admittedly wonky issue that nevertheless could determine the fate of ObamaCare: whether Congress authorized the IRS to subsidize health insurers, and to tax employers and certain individuals, in states that refuse to establish one of ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges.”

I want you, dear Cato@Liberty readers, to help us get to the bottom of it.

Adler and I claim that Congress specifically, repeatedly, and unambiguously precluded the IRS from imposing those taxes or issuing those subsidies through federal “fallback” Exchanges. We maintain the below video shows ObamaCare’s chief sponsor and lead author–Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)–admitting it. Jost says Baucus’s comments have “absolutely nothing” to do with the matter. You be the judge, and tell us what you think.

A bit of background will help to frame what’s happening in the video: Both sides agree this issue hinges on whether the statute authorizes “premium assistance tax credits” through both state-created and federal Exchanges, or only state-created Exchanges. The video is from a September 23, 2009, Finance Committee markup of ObamaCare. In it, Baucus rules out of order a Republican amendment on the grounds that medical malpractice lies outside the committee’s jurisdiction. Sensing a double-standard, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) notes that Baucus’s underlying bill directs states to change their health insurance laws and to establish Exchanges, matters which also lie outside the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction, and asks why aren’t those provisions also out of order. Okay, go.

I might note that these are the only comments anyone has unearthed from ObamaCare’s legislative history that bear directly on the question of whether Congress intended to authorize tax credits in federal Exchanges.

Baucus’s response is hardly a model of clarity. But I can see no possible interpretation other than Baucus is admitting that (A) the statute makes tax credits conditional on states establishing an Exchange, and therefore does not authorize tax credits through federal Exchanges, and (B) that this feature was essential for the Senate’s tax-writing committee to have jurisdiction to legislate in the area of health insurance.

But maybe I’m wrong. What do you think Baucus is saying? Since we don’t enable comments on Cato@Liberty, post your interpretation here on the Anti-Universal Coverage Club’s Facebook page. Or post it on your own blog and send me a link.

For more on this issue, see what Adler and I have written for the law journal Health Matrix, the Wall Street JournalUSA Today, the Health Affairs blog, and National Review Online.

Update (August 22, 2014): I blogged over at DarwinsFool.com that I have changed my mind on the Baucus-Ensign colloquy. Not that it matters much. The D.C. Circuit placed no weight on Baucus’ comments and ruled for the plaintiffs anyway.

D.C. Employers: ObamaCare ‘Exchange’ an ‘Undefined, Untested, More Expensive Entity’ Offering ‘Standardized, Cookie-Cutter Coverage’

More than 150 local employers have written a letter to the District’s ObamaCare board, protesting the destruction of D.C.’s individual and small-group health insurance markets:

Those of us who may have had doubts about the health reform law were comforted by President Obama’s repeated assurances that, “If you like your health plan…you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period.” But, by dismantling and recasting the separate health insurance marketplaces that serve small employer groups and individuals in the District, D.C. policymakers would take away the option of keeping the health plan that they now have. Rather, to continue to offer health benefits to employees after 2013, small employers like us would have no choice but to go to an undefined, untested, more expensive entity to obtain coverage. Especially in these uncertain economic times, many employers, and their workers, must be given the time to adjust their budgets for the estimated price increases of the Exchange. In addition, many of us have long-established relationships with health insurers we know and are guided by broker advisors who understand our unique needs. We do not want to be forced to buy the standardized, cookie-cutter coverage that would be offered through a government-run Exchange…

Indeed, forcing all consumers seeking Individual or Small Group health coverage to go to the Exchange to purchase health plans runs counter to the ACA’s essential promise of more – not less – choice…The diversity of small employer health plans currently available in the District cannot be replicated in the standardized plans offered by the Exchange. Small employers rely on choice amongst a wide array of health plans available in the current commercial marketplace and the flexibility to design contributions to complement each employer’s unique budgetary and financial situations…With the many changes that will be required of employers of all sizes under the new federal health care reform law, it seems unreasonable to add to those concerns by eliminating the commercial marketplace which we know for an undefined, unfamiliar and untested Exchange-driven marketplace.

In addition, we cannot ignore the significant costs of administering the Exchange which will undermine one of the key goals of the federal law - affordability.

Signatories include such notorious right-wing groups as the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence:

  1. ACDI/VOCA
  2. AIDS United
  3. Allen & Associates
  4. Alliance Insurance Services
  5. American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists
  6. American Association for Clinical Chemistry, Inc.
  7. American Bakers Association
  8. American Cleaning Institute
  9. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
  10. American Immigration Lawyers Association
  11. American Insurance Association
  12. American Road & Transportation Builders Association
  13. American Society of Association Executives
  14. Andre Chreky, the salon spa
  15. Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington
  16. Ashcraft & Gerel LLP
  17. Association for Competitive Technology
  18. Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
  19. Axar Management
  20. Beacon Consulting Group, Inc.
  21. Blue House Design
  22. Bogart
  23. Brady Campaign and Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence
  24. Brawner Management, LLC
  25. Building Owners and Managers Association International
  26. Capital Medical Associates
  27. Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C.
  28. Center for Nonprofit Advancement
  29. CGH Technologies, Inc.
  30. Chef Geoff’s
  31. Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind
  32. Combined Properties, Incorporated
  33. Communications Development
  34. Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area
  35. David All Group
  36. DC Chamber of Commerce
  37. Development Gateway, Inc.
  38. Distilled Spirits Council
  39. Elizabeth M. Ross and Kenneth M.H. Lee, M.D., P.C.
  40. Entertainment Software Association
  41. Environmental Law Institute
  42. EOP Group, Inc.
  43. Euroconsultants, Inc.
  44. Federation of American Hospitals
  45. Good Neighbors, LLC
  46. Government Accountability Project
  47. Hemsley Fraser Group
  48. High Noon Communications
  49. History Matters
  50. Howard Eales, Inc.
  51. Howard W. Phillips & Co.
  52. ICI Mutual Insurance Company
  53. Innovators Network Foundation
  54. Interstate Natural Gas Association of America
  55. J. Todd Miller & Associates, Inc.
  56. Kaludis Consulting Group, Inc.
  57. Katz, Marshall & Banks LLP
  58. Knightsbridge Restaurant Group
  59. LEVICK
  60. LimeLeap Solutions
  61. Marvin A. Address & Associates, Inc.
  62. McBride Real Estate
  63. McClendon Center
  64. MCLA Inc.
  65. Metro TeenAIDS
  66. Metropolitan Washington Road & Transportation Builders
  67. Miller & Shook Companies
  68. National Association for Gifted Children
  69. National Association of Health Underwriters
  70. National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
  71. National Association of State Departments of Agriculture
  72. National Council for Interior Design Qualification
  73. National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association
  74. National Mining Association
  75. National Propane Gas Association
  76. Navista, Inc.
  77. NetChoice
  78. Pacific Cargoes
  79. Park Limited
  80. Passion Food Hospitality
  81. Promundo-US
  82. Radio Television Digital News Association / Foundation
  83. Regis & Asociates, PC
  84. Reiter & Hill
  85. Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington
  86. RULG-Ukranian Legal Group, P.A.
  87. Sabin Vaccine Institute
  88. Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates
  89. Spiegel & McDiarmid LLP
  90. The Council for Responsible Nutrition
  91. The Episcopal Center for Children
  92. The Farm Credit Council
  93. The Ford Agency, Inc.
  94. The Gabriel Company, LLC
  95. The Prime Rib, Inc.
  96. Timothy A. Price, MD, PC
  97. Triad Communication / TRC Real Estate
  98. U.S. Grains Council
  99. U.S. Soccer Foundation
  100. United Fresh Produce Association
  101. Vinyl Siding Institute, Inc.
  102. Vogel, Slade & Goldstein, LLP
  103. Waterman and Associates
  104. Wenderoth, Lind & Ponack, L.L.P.
  105. Widmeyer Communications
  106. Appleseed Foundation
  107. Atelier Architects
  108. Bockorny Group
  109. Bond & Pecaro
  110. Bonner, Kiernan, Trebach & Crociata
  111. Bonstra Haresign Architects
  112. Capitol Process Services, Inc.
  113. Carr Workplaces
  114. Casey Trees
  115. Clement’s Pastry Shop
  116. Communications Development Incorporated
  117. Computer World Services
  118. Colonnade Condos
  119. Compressus
  120. Environmental Design & Construction
  121. The Fund for American Studies
  122. Fund for Global Human Rights
  123. Futures Industry Association
  124. Hartman-Cox Architects
  125. Hecht, Spencer and Associates
  126. The Herald Group
  127. I. Gorman Jewelers
  128. International Center for Research on Women
  129. International Dairy Foods Association
  130. International Franchise Association
  131. James E. Brown & Associates, PLLC
  132. Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital
  133. Jewish Women International
  134. King Branson LLC
  135. Land Trust Alliance
  136. Law Resources
  137. MAG America
  138. Man-Machine Systems Assessment, Inc.
  139. McBee Strategic
  140. McBride Real Estate Services
  141. Medical Device Manufacturers Association
  142. Medical Society of the District of Columbia
  143. Metropolitan Engineering, Inc. | Shapiro – O’Brien
  144. National Institute of Building Sciences
  145. North American Millers’ Association
  146. North American Securities Administrators Association
  147. Pascal & Weiss, P.C.
  148. Poker Players Alliance
  149. Potomac Communications Group, Inc.
  150. Public Properties
  151. Rust Insurance Agency, LLC
  152. Safety Net Hospitals for Pharmaceutical Access
  153. Salsa Labs
  154. Society of the Plastics Industry
  155. Springboard Enterprises
  156. Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
  157. The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars
  158. Washington Partners, LLC

One might add the Center for Science in the Public Interest, whose president emeritus complains, “the only option the board publicly considered has been this unpopular and unnecessary plan to close the private marketplace to many businesses.”

‘No State Is Going to Be Able to Be Fully Certified on Jan. 1’

I was traveling when the Washington Post published this article on D.C.’s efforts to implement ObamaCare:

If you want to know what health reform in action looks like, here’s what you should picture: a nondescript conference room, on the fourth floor of a government building, with about four dozen people sitting in rows of red chairs and one fluorescent light that keeps flickering on and off…

[T]his is actually a pretty important place. It’s where government officials decide what the Obama administration’s signature legislative achievement will look like for residents of the nation’s capitol…

It started with the first agenda item: Deciding what set of essential health benefits the District of Columbia will require all insurance carriers to cover. Even in one of the most Democratic-leaning districts in the country, there’s was not exactly enthusiasm for this new piece of federal regulation.

“This is mandated by the law,” District of Columbia insurance commissioner Bill White noted. “This is not something anyone here decided to do.”

Still, they did have to set an essential benefit package…

That sounds like to me like bureaucratic hell in action more than health care reform in action. And the last part, about ObamaCare or federal bureaucrats requiring D.C. to make these decisions, isn’t even true.

One consolation is that it looks like not even the 14 states that want to establish ObamaCare’s health insurance Exchanges will be able to do so on time.

Even with widespread support, the District still has a to-do list that stretches 11 PowerPoint slides long…

All of it is supposed to be done by Jan. 1, 2013, but officials here recognize, despite their commitment, it’s just not possible. Even the most stalwart of Obamacare supporters just simply have too much work to meet that deadline…

“No state is going to be able to be fully certified on Jan. 1,” said Bonnie Norton, D.C’s acting director of health reform.. “When they passed the ACA, they were highly optimistic about the timeline for states to implement exchanges.”

Does anyone really think that ObamaCare’s Exchanges will be up an running on time by October 1, 2013?

Should States Implement ObamaCare’s ‘Essential Health Benefits’ Mandate?

The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff writes that the Department of Health and Human Services has decided to “punt” on the “monumental” task of dictating exactly what types of coverage those who get health insurance through the individual market or small employers must purchase. HHS has decided to let each state decide for its own residents what constitutes “essential health benefits.” It was a shrewd move: under the guise of decentralized decision-making, HHS is offering to let state officials take the blame for an inevitably controversial decision and the inevitable higher costs that will result. Yay, federalism! States have until the end of this month to decide just how much coverage they are going to help ObamaCare force their citizens to purchase.

Kliff reports that many states are now wrestling with the unanswerable question, “What health-care benefits are absolutely essential?”

Is acupuncture essential health care? Weight-loss surgery? Under Obamacare, states choose…

California legislators say acupuncture makes the cut. Michigan regulators would include chiropractic services. Oregon officials would leave both of those benefits on the cutting-room floor. Colorado has deemed pre-vacation visits to travel clinics necessary, while leaving costly fertility treatments out of its preliminary package…

A Virginia advisory board recommended that the state adopt a plan that includes speech therapy and chiropractic care. A District subcommittee has endorsed a plan pegged to an existing BlueCross BlueShield package, and public comment remains open through Friday Sept. 28…

Of course, an objective definition of “essential” coverage is impossible. Like “medical necessity,” the only way to determine whether health coverage is “essential” is if the benefits exceed the costs. That is an inherently subjective question that no legislator or regulator, state or federal, can or should try to answer for a diverse population of consumers. When they do, health care providers invariably hijack the process, demanding that consumers be required to purchase coverage of their services. Since the legislators/regulators are handing out benefits while consumers and taxpayers shoulder the costs, the result is predictable: health insurance premiums rise.

Thanks to HHS’s punt, providers now have an even greater incentive to lobby states to mandate coverage of their services. If a state creates its own list of “essential health benefits,” then any benefits the state mandates will be eligible for federal subsidies. If not, the cost of state-mandated benefits continues to fall on consumers or employers, who tend to complain. (Again, shrewd. Corrupt and irresponsible. But shrewd.)

But since ObamaCare is on the books, and HHS gave states a choice, what should states do?

The choice is identical to what states face with regard to health insurance Exchanges: states have the option to implement part of ObamaCare themselves, but no matter what they decide, Washington is ultimately running the show.

The federal government will not let states pick a menu of “essential health benefits” or establish an Exchange with fewer regulatory controls than HHS would impose itself. Since less regulation than the federal government would impose is not an option, implementing these parts of the law can only lead to more regulation, fewer choices, and higher costs. And of course, state officials will take the blame when ObamaCare starts increasing costs and denying care to people. There is simply no good reason for states to assume this impossible, harmful, and thankless task.

Instead of doing the feds’ dirty work, states should use this opportunity to show how ObamaCare rigs the game against states and consumers alike. State officials that want to rid the nation of ObamaCare should submit to HHS a “benchmark” EHB plan that they know HHS will refuse. It could be either the most affordable health plan they can find in their individual or small group markets, or a plan that state officials designed themselves. Leave out benefits that HHS considers dealbreakers. Push the deductible as high as you dare. Allow annual or lifetime limits. The less coverage you include in your EHB benchmark, the more choice consumers will have and the lower the premiums will be. Submit such a proposal to HHS and dare them to reject it. Let your voters see that under ObamaCare, choice is a mirage. Dare HHS to explain why they rejected affordable health plans and forced the Treasury to subsidize more-expensive health plans.

Alternatively, state who are not inclined to confrontation can tell the Obama administration the same thing they should say with regard to health insurance Exchanges: it’s your stupid law, you implement it.

Oklahoma Challenges Obama’s Illegal Employer Tax

Yesterday, the attorney general of Oklahoma amended that state’s ObamaCare lawsuit. The amended complaint asks a federal court to clarify the Supreme Court’s ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius, but it also challenges an IRS rule that imposes ObamaCare’s employer mandate where the statute does not authorize it: on employers in the 30 to 40 states that decline to implement a health insurance “exchange.”

Here are a few excerpts from Oklahoma’s amended complaint:

The Final Rule was issued in contravention of the procedural and substantive requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act…; has no basis in any law of the United States; and directly conflicts with the unambiguous language of the very provision of the Internal Revenue Code it purports to interpret…

Under Defendants’ Interpretation, [this rule] expand[s] the circumstances under which an Applicable Large Employer must make an Assessable Payment…with the result that an employer may be required to make an Assessable Payment under circumstances not provided for in any statute and explicitly ruled out by unambiguous language in the Affordable Care Act.

Plaintiff believes…that subjecting the State of Oklahoma in its capacity as an employer to the employer mandate would cause the Affordable Care Act to exceed Congress’s legislative authority; to violate the Tenth Amendment; to impermissibly interfere with the residual sovereignty of the State of Oklahoma; and to violate Constitutional norms relating to the relationship between the states, including the State of Oklahoma, and the Federal Government.

As for the latest claim to be made in defense of the IRS rule – that an Exchange  established by the federal government under Section 1321 is an Exchange “established by the state under Section 1311” – the complaint says this:

If the Act provides or is interpreted to provide that an Exchange established by HHS under Section 1321(c) of the Act is a form of what the Act refers to as “an Exchange established by a State under Section 1311 of [the Act],” then Section 1321(c) is unconstitutional because it commandeers state governmental authority with respect to State Exchanges, permits HHS to exercise a State’s legislative and/or executive power, and otherwise causes the Exchange-related provisions of the Act…to exceed Congress’s legislative authority; to violate the Tenth Amendment; to infringe on the residual sovereignty of the States under the Constitution; and to violate Constitutional norms relating to the relationship between the states, including the State of Oklahoma, and the Federal Government.

Oklahoma does not yet list any private-sector employers as co-plaintiffs, but that may change.

Since this IRS rule also unlawfully taxes 250,000 Oklahomans under the individual mandate – a tax that in 2016 will reach $2,085 for a family of four earning $24,000 – the attorney general has an awful lot of individual Oklahomans that he could add to its plaintiff roster.

Jonathan Adler and I first wrote about President Obama’s illegal taxes on employers in the Wall Street Journal and again in the USA Today. Since parts of those opeds have been overtaken by events, I recommend reading our forthcoming Health Matrix article, “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA.” Yes, all 82 pages of it.

Written Testimony on the Illegal IRS Rule to Increase Taxes & Spending under Obamacare

The written testimony that Jonathan Adler and I submitted for the House Oversight Committee hearing on the Internal Revenue Service’s unlawful attempt to increase taxes and spending under Obamacare is now online. An excerpt:

Contrary to the clear language of the statute and congressional intent, this [IRS] rule issues tax credits in health insurance “exchanges” established by the federal government. It thus triggers a $2,000-per-employee tax on employers and appropriates billions of dollars to private health insurance companies in states with a federal Exchange, also contrary to the clear language of the statute and congressional intent. Since those illegal expenditures will exceed the revenues raised by the illegal tax on employers, this rule also increases the federal deficit by potentially hundreds of billions of dollars, again contrary to the clear language of the statute and congressional intent.

The rule is therefore illegal. It lacks any statutory authority. It is contrary to both the clear language of the PPACA and congressional intent. It cannot be justified on other legal grounds.

On balance, this rule is a large net tax increase. For every $2 of unauthorized tax reduction, it imposes $1 of unauthorized taxes on employers, and commits taxpayers to pay for $8 of unauthorized subsidies to private insurance companies. Because this rule imposes an illegal tax on employers and obligates taxpayers to pay for illegal appropriations, it is quite literally taxation without representation.

Three remedies exist. The IRS should rescind this rule before it takes effect in 2014. Alternatively, Congress and the president could stop it with a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. Finally, since this rule imposes an illegal tax on employers in states that opt not to create a health insurance “exchange,” those employers and possibly those states could file suit to block this rule in federal court.

Requiring the IRS to operate within its statutory authority will not increase health insurance costs by a single penny. It will merely prevent the IRS from unlawfully shifting those costs to taxpayers.

Related: here is the video of my opening statement, and Adler’s and my forthcoming Health Matrix article, “Taxation without Representation: the Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits under the PPACA.”

House Oversight Hearing on the IRS’s Illegal Rule Increasing Taxes & Spending under ObamaCare

Overall, this Tennessean article summarizes well yesterday’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the IRS rule that Jonathan Adler and I write about here and here. Unfortunately, the article does perpetuate the misleading idea that the nation’s new health care law is “missing” language to authorize tax credits in federally created Exchanges. (The statute isn’t missing anything. It language reads exactly as its authors wanted it to read.)

Excerpts:

Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ argument that the health-care reform law lacks wording needed to implement a crucial part of it took a major step forward Thursday.

The Jasper Republican got a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on his claim that the Internal Revenue Service lacks authority to tax employers who fail to offer health policies and leave workers to buy coverage through federally established exchanges.

His arguments, while not uncontested during the hearing, apparently won over the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Issa signed on Thursday as a co-sponsor of DesJarlais’ bill related to the issue. Other House Republican leaders also have shown interest, DesJarlais said in an interview afterward. He said he expects a vote on the House floor sometime this fall.

And a Senate version has been introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis…

DesJarlais contends that Congress worded the law in a way that authorizes the taxes and tax credits only for insurance bought through state-based exchanges, not federal ones…

The distinction is important because many states are balking at setting up their own exchanges. DesJarlais’ argument would mean federal exchanges couldn’t be implemented in those states, either…

“They have rewritten a law Congress haphazardly drafted,” DesJarlais said.

His bill, which has 35 cosponsors, would keep the IRS from moving forward with its regulatory language.

“I have employers watching this very closely,” DesJarlais added. Essentially, he said, the issue is “about whether ObamaCare can continue to exist.”