Tag: taxes

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.

‘Dems and GOP Agree, Government Needs More Money’

That’s the (fair) title of this blog post over at National Journal’s Influence Alley:

The federal government needs more money. That’s one thing both parties can agree on, Republican and Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday. The rub, of course, is how to get it.

Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa. said at a National Journal panel on Tuesday morning that there’s no question that more revenue is needed. Democrats say they can raise the money by letting upper-income tax cuts expire, while Republicans say economic growth alone will help raise the cash.

“We need more revenue,” said Roskam, the House GOP’s chief deputy whip. “If you can get the money to satisfy obligations, that’s an area of common ground.”

Let’s hear it for duopoly, eh, comrades? Without it, we might suffer political parties that question whether those government “obligations” are wise, or necessary, or constitutional; or that point out governments don’t have needs, people do; or that reject the premise that politics is an exercise in deciding who needs what; or that argue for eliminating entire spheres of government activity. Can you tell I’ve just watched a presidential debate?

‘The Obamacare Cases Keep Coming’

Jonathan Adler at National Review Online:

During oral arguments in the Supreme Court challenge to the individual mandate, NFIB v. Sebelius, the plaintiff’s lawyer Paul Clement warned the justices not to make the same mistake they made in the 1970s with Buckley v. Valeo. In Buckley, the Court upheld portions of the post-Watergate campaign-finance reforms while invalidating others. The result was a muddled statute that Congress and the courts would repeatedly revisit for years to come. Repeating this approach with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Clement cautioned, could produce similar undesirable results. It’s too soon to know how quickly Congress will revisit the PPACA, but Clement’s warning already seems to be coming true in the courts…

More than three months after the Court’s decision, over three dozen legal challenges to the PPACA or its implementation are pending in federal courts, and more are sure to come.

At a Cato briefing on Capitol Hill this Wednesday, Adler and I will be speaking about one of those cases.

ObamaCare’s ‘Essential Health Benefits’: Few States Implement, HHS ‘Is in Clear Violation of the Law’

ObamaCare directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to define the “essential health benefits” that all consumers in the individual and small-group health insurance markets must purchase. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius kicked that decision to the states, giving them a deadline of this past Friday, September 30. Kaiser Health News reports that all of 16 states submitted an Essential Health Benefits (EHB) benchmark to HHS by the deadline.

But did Sebelius have the authority to kick this decision to states? In a September 26 letter to Sebelius, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine writes:

[T]he PPACA clearly states that the Secretary of HHS is to define the EHB package for policies offered both inside and outside of health insurance exchanges. While the language in PPACA was plain that this statutory responsibility fell on HHS, in December of last year HHS issued guidance preliminarily indicating states must select a benchmark design, with HHS potentially acting as final arbiter…of that selection. (Emphasis added.)

Is September 30 even a deadline?

Some communications from your agency indicate that this is a suggested response date while others indicate that it is a deadline of some sort. We again are asking for clarity.

Letting states make that decision will increase flexibility, though. Right?

[I]n reality the guidance placed additional restrictions on the EHB selection rather than flexibility. HHS guidance appears to render the states’ ability to innovate and to make an independent choice illusory. (Emphasis added.)

Indeed, the 16 states who have complied may be in for a rude awakening.

HHS indicated that any selection by the states will be subject to additional review, but we have no definitive guidance as to what, if any, weight will be given to a state’s selection. The minimum amount of information provided to date invites concern that your agency will alter or override a state’s submission…raising serious questions as to whether states have any meaningful ability to make a definitive selection of an EHB benchmark. (Emphasis added.)

Pennsylvania thus declined to submit one, and effectively told Sebelius to do her job.

Louisiana went a step further, threatening to hold Sebelius accountable if she doesn’t. In a September 27 letter, Louisiana’s Secretary of Health and Hospitals Bruce Greenstein and Insurance Commissioner James Donelson noted that the December 2011 “bulletin” merely stated that HHS “intend[s] to propose” a deadline of  September 30 for making that decision—meaning that the bulletin “neither… has the force of law, nor commits federal regulators to any particular course of action.” Moreover:

[I]t is our State’s conclusion that while the bulletin states a decision is to be made by [September 30], this “deadline” has never been formalized through the official rulemaking process. As long as formal rules do not exist, the federal government can change its approach. Since the federal government is not bound by these bulletins, neither are the States. As such, the State of Louisiana is not legally required to submit a benchmark preference by [September 30,] 2012. The State of Louisiana will not permit the federal government to dictate to our residents a default benchmark plan, as the federal government, in its disregard of the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act regarding essential health benefits and other provisions of the PPACA, has no authority to do so under federal or Louisiana law until regulations are published in the Federal Register, following established notice and comment procedure.

The process developed for defining the essential health benefit benchmark has been a completely new method of establishing law without proper rulemaking. Implementation of new policies without open and public comment and publication in the Federal Register is in clear violation of the law.

The administration has charged states to build what the federal government mandates, but the federal government has provided [only] informal guidance and incomplete rules and regulations…Accordingly, there will be no essential health benefits package for the State of Louisiana, and we will pursue all avenues to prevent the federal government from selecting one on behalf of our state. (Emphasis added.)

As I have written previously, “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.”

ObamaCare’s Authors ‘Handed Their Opponents a Weapon’

Ramesh Ponnuru writes about ObamaCare’s greatest vulnerability:

The debate over President Barack Obama’s health-care law has taken another twist. Now conservatives and libertarians are defending it, while the administration tries to toss part of the legislation out.

The reason for this role reversal is that the drafters of the law outsmarted themselves and handed their opponents a weapon. Now they would like to pretend the law doesn’t say what it does.

Obama’s plan makes tax credits available to people who get health insurance from exchanges set up by state governments. If states don’t establish those exchanges, the federal government will do so for them. The federal exchanges, however, don’t come with tax credits: The law authorizes credits only for people who get insurance from state-established exchanges. And that creates some problems the administration didn’t foresee, and now hopes to wish away…

The administration’s response to the impending failure of its signature legislation – a failure resulting entirely from its flawed design – has been to ignore the inconvenient portion of the law. In May, the Internal Revenue Service decided it would issue tax credits to people who get insurance from exchanges established by the federal government. It has thus exposed firms and individuals to taxes and penalties without any legal authorization. Obviously, that situation sets the stage for lawsuits.

The plaintiffs will have a strong case. Jonathan Adler and Michael Cannon – two libertarians, the first a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and the second a health-care analyst at the Cato Institute – have done more than anyone to bring attention to this issue. They point out that every health bill advanced by Senate Democrats clearly made tax credits conditional on [states implementing the law]. They have also uncovered that during the debate over the bill, Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, explicitly said the same thing.

‘I Haven’t Raised Taxes’

Why am I only hearing about President Obama’s gob-smacking “I haven’t raised taxes” claim today, and from Reason?

On CBS News’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night, President Obama said, “Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last 50 years. So I haven’t raised taxes.”

As of Monday morning, neither the Washington Post’s Pinocchio-awarding Fact-Checker, nor the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org, nor the Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning Politifact.com had risen to this opportunity…

Unbelievable. I just checked those websites, and they still haven’t.

Fortunately, Ira Stoll has. He leaves out a number of taxes President Obama has enacted, though, including raising the Medicare payroll tax on high-income earners, applying the Medicare payroll tax to non-payroll income for high-income earners, limiting the tax exclusion for flexible spending accounts, increasing the penalties on certain health savings account withdrawals, the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health plans…

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.