Tag: kathleen sebelius

Kansas Returns a $32 Million ObamaCare Grant, Plus More Bad News for ObamaCare

The debt deal was none too kind to ObamaCare. Here’s more bad news for this misguided law:

  • Kansas becomes the second state (after Oklahoma) to return to the federal government one of ObamaCare’s lavish “Early Innovator Grants.” Coming from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius’s home state, that’s gotta hurt.
  • The latest ObamaCare eruption shows the law could cost $50 billion more per year than advertised. If anyone but the government sold you something like this, we’d put them in jail.
  • Many of the same Democrats who said it wasn’t a benefit cut when ObamaCare ratcheted down the price controls that government uses to pay health care providers now say it is a benefit cut when states do that.

Tax-consumers Use Our Money to Lobby for More of Our Money

I have two items published today about how governments and other tax-consumers use taxpayer dollars to lobby the government to get more taxpayer dollars. Politico Arena asks, “Will the public warm up to the health care law?” My reply:

I’m amused – at best – that the vast United States government is using my tax dollars to try to persuade voters that the signature legislative accomplishment of the president’s term is actually a good idea. Search Google for the term “Obamacare,” and the first paid link is for healthcare.gov, a government propaganda site for the Affordable Care Act. They’re also using Medicare.gov that way. And roping in poor old Andy Griffith for a TV ad that Factcheck.org says uses “weasel words” to “mislead” seniors.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the administration had a “lot of reeducation to do.” If administration officials were confident that their health care scheme was a good idea, they wouldn’t need to spend tax dollars – in a year when the deficit exceeds $1.5 trillion – to try to sell it to the citizens. And this raises a real question for democratic governance: Are the people supposed to tell policymakers what policies they want, or should policymakers use the people’s money to tell them what they should want?

Meanwhile, at the Britannica Blog I cite other examples of tax-funded lobbying:

Between broadcasts of “Downton Abbey” and “Frontline,” PBS viewers are implored to call their congressman and keep the money flowing. Public radio websites blare “Protect KCRW, Write your representative, write your senator.” Announcements on the radio carry the same message….

My colleague Richard Rahn complains, “Taxpayer dollars are also used to fund international organizations, which, in turn, lobby the U.S. Congress for not only more money for themselves, but also for higher taxes on the American people.”…

The Hill newspaper reported in 2009, “Auto companies and eight of the country’s biggest banks that received tens of billions of dollars in federal bailout money spent more than $20 million on lobbying Washington lawmakers in the first half of this year.” Later in the year the Huffington Post found, “Twenty-five top recipients of government bailout funds spent more than $71 million on lobbying in the year since they were rescued.”

And I ask:

Lobbying is constitutionally protected. The First Amendment guarantees not just freedom of speech and of the press but also “the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But does that mean the government itself has a right to petition itself for a piece of the pie?

So This Is Freedom? They Must Be Joking.

That’s the title of my latest Kaiser Health News column, which addresses President Obama’s offer to accelerate the waiver process that would allow states to replace many of ObamaCare’s most offensive provisions:

If you think that means the president was himself exhibiting flexibility, you would be wrong. Despite the rhetoric about compromise, what the president actually did was offer states the option of replacing his law with a single-payer health care system three years earlier than his law allows…

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has written that ObamaCare gives states “incredible freedom” to implement the law. We now know what she meant: states are free to coerce their residents even more than ObamaCare requires. What’s incredible is that she calls that freedom.

Apologies to to the Housemartins.

ObamaCare’s New Freedom

Earlier this month, President Obama’s HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took to the Washington Post’s op-ed page to reassure everybody that ObamaCare “puts states in the driver’s seat” and “gives states incredible freedom to tailor reforms to their needs.” 

One grows weary of exposing the brazen falsehoods this administration incessantly and unconscionably peddles about its corrupt, unconstitutional, and irredeemable health care law.  But here I go again: the very idea that ObamaCare puts states in the driver’s seat is nonsense. States already had the power to enact all the taxes, mandates, and price controls that ObamaCare expects them to implement — and to make what few choices ObamaCare leaves them. 

If you want to know what Incredible Freedom really means, look to Wisconsin, where President Obama — who is evidently bored with the federal budget — has inserted himself into a state budget dispute, as David Boaz has noted

As it turns out, Incredible Freedom means you are free to do exactly what President Obama wants. 

The Washington Post reports on talk of federal bailouts for states (like Wisconsin) that are struggling with huge deficits and unfunded liabilities in their state pension and retiree health care programs.  However: 

The White House has dismissed such speculation, saying states have the wherewithal to raise taxes, cut programs and renegotiate employee contracts to balance their books

A startling admission.  Perhaps someone in the White House can pull Sebelius aside and explain that states also had the wherewithal to enact all the “reforms” that ObamaCare imposed on them.  States already were “in the driver’s seat.  They already had the power “to tailor reforms to their needs.” 

Then along came ObamaCare.

ObamaCare’s ‘Medical Loss Ratio’ Regs Encourage Fraud, Unnecessary Medical Services

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations implementing ObamaCare’s rule mandating that health insurers maintain minimum “medical loss ratios.”

Opponents of private health insurance have made a fetish of  MLRs – a statistic that insurers developed to show investors the share of premiums they spend on claims.  (“See? They call it a ‘loss’ when they pay for medical care – that proves they’re evil!”)  So the opponents of private health insurance who crafted ObamaCare included a rule requiring carriers to spend at least 80 percent of premium revenue (large employers must spend 85 percent) on “your health care.”  What could possibly go wrong?

The folly and false compassion of ObamaCare are on full display in the MLR regs, where government bureaucrats have evidently determined that unnecessary and harmful medical services, and even insurance fraud, are in fact good for patients. Okay, HHS bureaucrats don’t actually think that. But ObamaCare’s MLR regs include fraud prevention and utilization review among the administrative expenses on which carriers may spend no more than 20 percent of revenue (15 percent for large employers). That will effectively discourage insurers from policing fraud and conducting utilization reviews that protect patients from the expense and risks of unnecessary medical tests and procedures.

ObamaCare’s fatal conceit is that government bureaucrats can determine and deliver what is good for patients. Consumers will continue to feel the pain – costs will continue to rise and more insurers will flee the marketplace – until Congress gives up that conceit and repeals this law.

A Less-Than-Rigorous ObamaCare Fact Check

Kaiser Health News and The Washington Post have posted a piece titled “Campaign Claims: Health Law Myths And Facts,” which examines these common criticisms of ObamaCare:

  1. “The law amounts to a ‘government takeover’ of health insurance and health care.” The article’s conclusion: “it falls far short of a government takeover.”  That conclusion rests largely on the fact that “Medical care will be provided by private hospitals and doctors.”  But as I explain in this study, “it is irrelevant whether we describe medical resources (e.g., hospitals, employees) as ‘public’ or ‘private.’ What matters—what determines real as opposed to nominal ownership—is who controls the resources.”  Obama health official Jeanne Lambrew acknowledges as much: “the government role in socialized medicine systems [can include] public financing of private insurance and providers.”  And as I concluded in this study, “Compulsory ‘private’ health insurance would give government as much control over the nation’s health care sector as a compulsory government program.”  I wonder if the article’s authors spoke to anyone who raised this perspective.
  2. “The law will gut Medicare by cutting more than $500 billion from the program over 10 years; seniors will lose benefits and won’t be able to keep their doctors.” Conclusion: “The gutting of Medicare claim goes too far…What this means for seniors is a bit murkier.”  True enough: even if ObamaCare’s implausible Medicare cuts take effect, they clearly would not “gut” Medicare.  (BTW, click here or here for a politically sustainable way to restrain Medicare spending.)  The authors also note that Medicare Advantage enrollees would lose some benefits.  But when the article claims that ObamaCare will not eliminate any “basic” Medicare benefits, it neglects to mention that Medicare’s chief actuary estimates that the law could cause 15 percent of hospitals, home health agencies, and other providers to stop accepting Medicare patients.  If your hospital no longer accepts your Medicare coverage, is that not a benefit cut?
  3. “The law will cause 87 million Americans to lose their current coverage.” Conclusion: “How true is it?  Partly, at best. But evidence is limited.”  The House Republicans’ Pledge to America claims that ObamaCare “will force some 87 million Americans to drop their current coverage.”  The word drop is a bit strong; it’s more accurate to say that many Americans will have to switch to another plan, even if it’s just a more-expensive version of their current plan.   Indeed, HHS estimates that 69 percent of employer plans will have to do so by 2013.  Yet some people are being dropped from their current health insurance.  When Principal Financial Group leaves the market, its nearly 1 million enrollees will lose their current health plan.  Industry analysts expect more such departures.  Why no mention of that?
  4. “The law is driving up costs and premiums and will continue to do so over the next several years.” Conclusion: “There may be very small increases initially.”  Here the article is kinder to ObamaCare than even ObamaCare’s supporters are.  May be?  Even ObamaCare’s supporters admit the law will increase premiums for some people.  Very small increases?   Even HHS estimates that the requirement that consumers purchase unlimited annual coverage could increase premiums for some by 7 percent.  (There’s no mention of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut, which says ObamaCare will increase premiums for some of its customers by nearly 30 percent.)  And why only initially?  Do the authors expect that there will be no premium increases when HHS eventually stops issuing waivers?  Or when HHS sets a minimum level of coverage that Americans must purchase in 2014?  Or that ObamaCare has solved the tragedy of the commons?  For support, the article claims, “the Obama administration, citing [various] estimates…says the law isn’t responsible for any increase greater than 1 to 2 percent.”  Actually, that’s not what the administration says – it’s what they want you to think they’re saying.  Read this letter and other administration utterances carefully.  They say “1-2 percent” when speaking of ObamaCare’s average effect on premiums, and “minimal” when speaking of anything other than the average effect.   (The administration’s threshold for “minimal” is presumably somewhere north of 7 percent.)
  5. “The law’s expansion of Medicaid will put massive pressure on state budgets at a time when many are already in crisis.” Conclusion: “The impact will probably be small, but it’s hard to say for sure.”  The article only cites figures generated by supporters of the law, who say the impact will be small.  Why just mention that there are figures from the other side?  Why not include them?
  6. “The new law uses tax dollars to pay for abortions.” Conclusion: “Open to interpretation.”  This was a missed opportunity to examine two crucial questions.  First, would federal insurance subsidies truly be segregated from the separate premiums that consumers in ObamaCare’s exchanges would have to pay for elective-abortion coverage?  Or would this just be an accounting gimmick?  What would happen, for example, if there were more abortions than an insurer anticipated, and those separate premiums proved insufficient to pay for them?  How would you keep one side of the ledger from spilling over into the other?  Second, would the availability of federal subsidies for health insurance plans that make elective-abortion coverage available as a rider increase enrollment in those plans?  If so, wouldn’t that implicitly subsidize elective abortions?  Rather than examine those questions, the article punted.

On the whole, I’d say this fact check may have been very kind to the new law.

GAO: HHS Imposed an “Unusual” Prior Restraint on Speech during ObamaCare Debate

During the debate over ObamaCare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services took issue with some of the things that some of the insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage program were telling their enrollees about the legislation.  The Government Accountability Office has just released a review of CMS’s conduct in that episode:

Although CMS’s actions generally conformed to its policies and procedures, the September 21, 2009, memorandum instructing all MA organizations to discontinue communications on pending legislation while CMS conducted its investigation was unusual. Officials from the MA organizations and CMS regional offices that we interviewed told us they were unaware of CMS ever directing all MA organizations to immediately stop an activity before CMS had determined whether that activity violated federal laws, regulations, or MA program guidance. When asked about this directive, officials from CMS’s central office stated that, given the degree of potential harm to beneficiaries, the action was appropriate for the circumstances….

HHS expressed concern that our description of the September 21, 2009, memorandum as “unusual” makes it appear as though their suspension of all MA organizations’ communications on pending health reform legislation was inappropriate. It noted that directing an MA organization to immediately stop an activity while the agency determined whether violations had occurred was infrequent but not unprecedented…. We believe that the example provided—wherein CMS put its data collection activities on hold until the agency resolved concerns with interpretation of its own regulations—is not comparable to CMS instructing all MA organizations to stop sending information about health reform proposals to beneficiaries while it investigated potential violations. Moreover, our characterization of CMS’s action as unusual is based on discussions with MA organizations and CMS staff. They told us that they could not recall a previous example where CMS told all plans to stop an activity after a potential violation was discovered and prior to the completion of an agency investigation.

For the record, CMS lacked (and still lacks) a Senate-confirmed administrator.  It’s worth asking whether this prior restraint placed on speech critical of the administration came from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who is making quite a name for herself as an enemy of free speech.