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‘Obamacare Extension Is Not An Extension’

Kathleen Sebelius

Wynton Hall writes:  Embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that the Obama administration’s decision to extend the Obamacare open enrollment period is not, in fact, an extension.

“This is not an extension of open enrollment. It is just saying, like you do on election day, if you’re in line to vote, we want to make sure you vote.”

— Sebelius, to Michigan Fox 2

However, unlike election day, the Washington Post says the Obama administration will give people several weeks – until mid-April – to enroll.

forbes-surprise

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Pressing the Panic Button?

Obama-troubled

Yuval Levin  writes:  As usual, it’s hard to tell just what’s going on inside the administration regarding Obamacare, but I don’t think we can really take the steps announced by HHS yesterday as anything but a bright, red, flashing warning light about the internal expectations regarding January.

Some of what they announced is frankly bizarre and slightly crazy. Beside extending the high-risk pool program (which isn’t nuts, just a strong indication that they’re not ready for January at this very late stage), they are asking insurers to pay claims for consumers who haven’t paid their premiums, to treat out-of-network doctors and hospitals as though they were in-network, and to pay for prescription drugs not actually covered by the plans they offer.

The administration is trying to present this as a set of perfectly ordinary kind of transition measures that insurers normally make available to new customers, and some of the more reliable members of their amen chorus on Obamacare have echoed that. But that’s not what this looks like to me, and a few conversations today suggest it’s not what it looks like to the insurers.

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NYT House Editorial on HHS Mandate Cases: Obscuring the Obama Administration’s Hostility to Religious-Liberty Concerns

NYTvsAmerica

Bench Memos at NRO (my new favorite source for judicial news & analysis) on Nov. 27th, Ed Whelan posted a good rebuttal of the NYTimes House Editorial on HHS Mandate cases. It’s a point-by-point takedown that I recommend for any health care consumer, reporter, NYTimes skeptic, religious observer, or like myself, underinformed non-attorney spokesperson.

Ed Whelan writes: Let’s run through the elementary confusions in this New York Times house editorial:

1. NYT charges that “the real assault on religious freedom [is] the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners’ religious views on workers who do not share them.” It contends that the HHS mandate is necessary to “preserve[] an employee’s right to make her own decisions regarding birth control and not to conform to the religious beliefs of her employer.”

But the plaintiff businesses and owners are not trying to “impose [their] religious views on workers.” If they succeed in refusing to comply with the HHS mandate, their employees would remain entirely free to obtain and use the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives and to “make [their] own decisions regarding birth control.” All that the businesses and owners are objecting to is the Obama administration’s insistence on dragooning them to provide insurance coverage that violates their religious beliefs.

If the Obama administration wants to marginally increase the already easy access that employees have to contraceptives, it can do so through alternative means that don’t violate employers’ religious-liberty rights. That’s exactly what the standards set forth in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act contemplate.

2. NYT asserts that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act “was not intended to cover profit-making corporations,” and it observes that the Supreme Court “has never recognized that a secular corporation is an entity capable of engaging in religion.”

As a textual matter, RFRA extends its religious-liberty protections to all “persons,” and relevant federal law (as the third paragraph of this post explains more fully and as even the dissenter in the Seventh Circuit acknowledged) defines “persons” to include corporations. If a law were to require all restaurants to serve pork and to be open on Saturdays, is it really NYT’s belief that a kosher deli run by a Jewish family would not even have a claim under RFRA if the family has incorporated the deli?

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Double Down: Obamacare Will Increase Avg. Individual-Market Insurance Premiums By 99% For Men, 62% For Women

For months now, we’ve been waiting to hear how much Obamacare will drive up the cost of health insurance for people who purchase coverage on their own. Last night, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finally began to provide some data on how Americans will fare on Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchanges. HHS’ press release is full of happy talk about how premiums will be “lower than originally expected.” But the reality is starkly different.

The Obamacare Rate Map, an interactive tool for learning about health insurance prices under the Affordable Care Act, was produced by the Manhattan Institute. Click on the graphic to visit the map.

The Obamacare Rate Map, an interactive tool for learning about health insurance prices under the Affordable Care Act, was produced by the Manhattan Institute. Click on the graphic to visit the map.

Based on a Manhattan Institute analysis of the HHS numbers, Obamacare will increase underlying insurance rates for younger men by an average of 97 to 99 percent, and for younger women by an average of 55 to 62 percent. Worst off is North Carolina, which will see individual-market rates triple for women, and quadruple for men.

HHS releases a trickle of data and a load of spin

Earlier this month, I and two colleagues from the Manhattan Institute—Yevgeniy Feyman and Paul Howard—published an interactive map that detailed Obamacare’s impact on individually-purchased health insurance premiums in 13 states plus D.C. As the accompanying article described, Obamacare increased premiums in those states by an average of 24 percent.

But those states were largely blue states that had set up their own, state-based insurance exchanges. The big data dump that we’ve been waiting for, since then, is from the majority of states that didn’t set up their own state-based exchange. That data is the responsibility of the Obama administration, namely HHS. Finally, with less than a week to go before the exchanges are supposed to go on-line, HHS has released a slim, 15-page report and a press release that summarize some of the premium data. Read the rest of this entry »


Obamacares Slush Fund Fuels A Broader Lobbying Controversy

By Stuart Taylor

Obamacares Slush Fund Fuels A Broader Lobbying Controversy - Forbes

A little-noticed part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act channels some $12.5 billion into a vaguely defined “Prevention and Public Health Fund” over the next decade–and some of that money is going for everything from massage therapists who offer “calming techniques,” to groups advocating higher state and local taxes on tobacco and soda, and stricter zoning restrictions on fast-food restaurants.

The program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has raised alarms among congressional critics, who call it a “slush fund,” because the department can spend the money as it sees fit and without going through the congressional appropriations process. The sums involved are vast. By 2022, the department will be able to spend $2 billion per year at its sole discretion. In perpetuity.

What makes the Prevention and Public Health Fund controversial is its multibillion-dollar size, its unending nature (the fund never expires), and its vague spending mandate: any program designed “to improve health and help restrain the rate of, growth” of health-care costs.  That can include anything from “pickleball” (a racquet sport) in Carteret County, N.C. to Zumba (a dance fitness program), kayaking and kickboxing in Waco, TX.

“It’s totally crazy to give the executive branch $2 billion a year ad infinitum to spend as they wish,” said budget expert Jim Capretta of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Congress has the power of the purse, the purpose of which is to insure that the Executive branch is using taxpayer resources as Congress specified.”

The concerns are as diverse as the critics. The HHS Inspector General, in a 2012 “alert,” was concerned that the payments to third-party groups came dangerously close to taxpayer-funded lobbying. While current law bars lobbying with federal money, Obama administration officials and Republican lawmakers differ on where lawful “education” ends and illicit “lobbying” begins.  Nor have federal courts defined “lobbying” for the purposes of this fund. A health and Human Services (HHS) department spokesman denies that any laws were broken and the inspector general is continuing to investigate.

Republicans in both the House of Representatives and Senate have complained that much of the spending seems politically motivated and are alarmed that some of the federal money went to groups who described their own activities as contacting state, city and county lawmakers to urge higher taxes on high-calorie sodas and tobacco, or to call for bans on fast-food restaurants within 1,000-feet of a school, or total bans on smoking in outdoor venues, such as beaches or parks. In a May 9 letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius, Rep. Fred Upton (R,Mich) wrote that HHS grants “appear to fund lobbying activities contrary to the laws, regulations, and guidance governing the use of federal funds.” His letter included the latest in a series of requests for more documents and complaints about responses to previous requests.

Some Democrats, including Obamacare champion Sen. Tom Harkin (D, Iowa), are extremely unhappy with another use of Prevention Fund money. The Obama Administration plans to divert $453.8 million this year from that fund to use for administrative and promotional efforts to enroll millions of people in health insurance exchanges that are said to be vital to Obamacare’s success. Harkin calls this shift, which has not been authorized by Congress, “an outrageous attack on an investment fund that is saving lives.”

This extraordinary fund transfer coincides with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s much-criticized solicitation of health industry officials for large “voluntary” corporate donations — on top of hefty tax increases — to help implement Obamacare. Together, they give the appearance of a desperate Administration effort to avoid the kind of “train wreck” that Senator Max Baucus (D, Montana), a principal architect of Obamacare, recently said he fears. That’s also one reason why Republicans who want to kill Obamacare refuse to provide additional funding for the exchanges…

 More via  Forbes