Obamacare has invented a dangerous new way to hide federal spending, including more than $100 billion designed to look like tax cuts.
In defiance of standard United States government accounting practices (and the government’s standard definitions of terms), Obamacare labels its direct outlays to insurance companies “tax credits” (not outlays)—even though they don’t actually cut anyone’s taxes. In this way, Obamacare is masking some $104 billion in federal spending over a decade.
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The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that the total net subsidy provided by the federal government for people under the age of 65 will amount to approximately $660 billion in 2016. The CBO and JCT project that this subsidy will rise annually at a rate of 5.4 percent. The forecasted net subsidy for the 2017-2026 period discussed in the report is $8.9 trillion.
Most of the costs of these subsidies can be attributed to Medicaid and to employer-sponsored health insurance coverage for those under age 65. The latter cost arises primarily because health insurance premiums paid by employers are exempt from federal income and payroll taxes. These employment-based coverage subsidies are expected to increase to $460 billion in a decade and will total around $3.6 trillion during the 2017-2026 period.
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The Senate spending bill to fund the Department of Health and Human Services and the Labor Department in 2017 will maintain Affordable Care Act funding, according to a senior GOP aide.
“We will fund all of the things we need to fund to try to keep it bipartisan,” the aide told Morning Consult, adding that this means some Republicans, specifically Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), will accuse appropriators of funding Obamacare.
The Senate’s Appropriations subcommittee on labor and health will vote on the proposal Tuesday. The full committee is slated to advance the bill on Thursday.
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The IRS raised concerns in early 2014 about the legality of certain ObamaCare payments that Republicans are now challenging in a lawsuit, according to a deposition from a former agency official.
David Fisher, who was the IRS’s chief risk officer, told the House Ways and Means Committee that agency officials questioned whether the Affordable Care Act provided the authority to make certain payments to insurers without an appropriation from Congress.
Most senior IRS officials ended up concluding that the payments were legal after a meeting with the White House to hear its legal justification, and the administration eventually went ahead with disbursing the funds.
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Yesterday, the New York Times detailed the highly irregular manner preceding the administration’s decision to make the CSR payments once Congress refused to grant the White House’s request for an appropriation. Despite strong disagreements over the legality of these payments among IRS employees, top political appointees with the administration, including then-Attorney General Eric Holder and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, signed off.
At a congressional deposition, David Fisher, an IRS financial risk officer at the time, testified that the process behind the authorization of the CSR payments was unusual. Moreover, he testified that the “cost-sharing reduction payments are not linked to the Internal Revenue Code, as far as I could tell, directly anywhere. There is no linkage to the permanent appropriation, nor is there any link to any other appropriation that was indicating what account these funds should be paid from.”
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House Republicans say that the Obama administration is ignoring subpoenas for documents related to ObamaCare spending they call illegal.
“Your refusal to provide the requested documents and information raises serious concerns about the Department’s willingness to be accountable for the lawful execution of laws passed by Congress,” Upton and Brady write to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
A federal district judge ruled this month, in a lawsuit brought by House Republicans, that the Obama administration lacks the authority to pay cost-sharing subsidies to health insurers if Congress has not appropriated the funds. Some civil servants in the administration may agree.
The House Ways and Means Committee released a deposition Tuesday of David Fisher, former chief risk officer for the Internal Revenue Service. In it, Mr. Fisher recounts a series of events in late 2013 and early 2014 regarding the source and legality of Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies to insurers.
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Two recently filed lawsuits illustrate continuing difficulties the administration faces in implementing the Affordable Care Act, particularly under the constraints imposed upon it recently by Congress. Specifically, the suits illustrate the legal difficulties for the administration created by Congress’ limiting of “risk corridor” payments—made to insurers with high claims costs—to amounts contributed to the risk corridor program by insurers with low costs. Last year, CMS announced that it would have only $362 million in contributions to pay out $2.87 billion in requested payments, and so would only pay out 12.6 cents on the dollar for payment claims.
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On Jan. 13, 2014, a team of Internal Revenue Service financial managers piled into government vans and headed to the Old Executive Office Building for what would turn out to be a very unusual meeting.
The clandestine nature of the session underscores the intense conflict over Obamacare spending, which is the subject of a federal lawsuit in which House Republicans have so far prevailed, as well as a continuing investigation by the Ways and Means and the Energy and Commerce Committees. It also shows that more than six years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Republican opposition has not waned.
After failing to win congressional approval for the funds, the Obama administration spent the money anyway and has now distributed about $7 billion to insurance companies to offset out-of-pocket costs for eligible consumers. The administration asserts that the health care legislation provided permanent, continuing authority to do so, and that no further appropriation was necessary.
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Rushing to enact the giant Obamacare bill in March 2010, Congress voted itself out of its own employer-sponsored health insurance coverage—the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Section 1312(d)(3)(D) required members of Congress and staff to enroll in the new health insurance exchange system. But in pulling out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, they also cut themselves off from their employer-based insurance contributions.
Obamacare’s insurance subsidies for ordinary Americans are generous, but capped by income. No one with an annual income over $47,080 gets a subsidy. That’s well below typical Capitol Hill salaries. Members of Congress make $174,000 annually, and many on their staff have impressive, upper-middle-class paychecks.
Maybe the lawmakers didn’t understand what they were doing, but The New York Times’ perspicacious Robert Pear certainly did. On April 12, 2010, Pear wryly wrote, “If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?”
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