Articles on the implementation of ObamaCare.
By Heather R. Higgins and Hadley Heath Manning
The Supreme Court is set to hear another case, King v. Burwell, with important implications for Obamacare. The question is whether the IRS overstepped its authority in treating the federal exchanges like state exchanges and causing subsidies to flow — and the companion penalties and mandates to apply — to consumers, governments, and organizations in federal-exchange states, despite the clear text of the law.
In advance of the March 4th hearing, the Administration and allied organizations are painting a picture of calamity – they say six, then seven, now eight million people will lose their subsidies and thus risk losing their insurance coverage if the plaintiffs win.
The clear hope is to frighten the Justices away from reading the plain language of the law, undoing the IRS administrative fiat, and restoring the law as explicitly written and intended.
By our count at the Galen Institute, more than 49 significant changes already have been made to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: at least 30 that President Obama has made unilaterally, 17 that Congress has passed and the president has signed, and 2 by the Supreme Court.
By Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander and John Barrasso
Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether the Obama administration used the IRS to deliver health insurance subsidies to Americans in violation of the law. Millions of Americans may lose these subsidies if the court finds that the administration acted illegally. If that occurs, Republicans have a plan to protect Americans harmed by the administration’s actions.
When the court rules in King v. Burwell, we anticipate that it will hold the administration to the laws Congress passed, rather than the laws the administration wishes Congress had passed, and prohibit subsidies in states that opted not to set up their own exchanges, as the language in the law clearly states. Such a ruling could cause 6 million Americans to lose a subsidy they counted on, and for many the resulting insurance premiums would be unaffordable.
Republicans have a plan to create a bridge away from Obamacare.
First and most important: We would provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period. It would be unfair to allow families to lose their coverage, particularly in the middle of the year.
The majority (52 percent) of Obamacare enrollees receiving an advance premium tax credit to purchase Obamacare insurance is facing the prospect of paying back $530 of that tax credit to the IRS, according to a new study from H&R Block. This clawback is reducing the refunds for these taxpayers by 17 percent this filing season.
Under Obamacare, taxpayers earning between 133 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive a tax credit to help purchase insurance on Obamacare exchanges. This tax credit is calculated using old tax data of the recipients. The credit is advanced ahead of time to the taxpayer’s insurance company. The taxpayer must reconcile at tax time the advance credit received with the actual credit she is eligible for.
As the SCOTUS oral arguments in King v. Burwell draw near, the cacophony from liberal outlets is nearly deafening. The plaintiffs’ position is “absurd ,” they cry. Congress “never contemplated withholding premium subsidies” in noncooperative states. Even the Obama administration argued that “it would have been perverse for Senators concerned about federalism to insist on pressuring States to participate in the implementation of a federal statute.”
Perverse? Jonathan Gruber (whose position on the issue is “complicated”) is equally disdainful, calling the challengers’ stance “nutty,” “stupid,” and a “screwy interpretation” of the law.
Really? Were Obamacare architects incapable of using “sticks” masquerading as “carrots” to coerce states into setting up Exchanges?
The debate over ObamaCare has obscured another important example of government meddling in medicine. Starting this year, physicians like myself who treat Medicare patients must adopt electronic health records, known as EHRs, which are digital versions of a patient’s paper charts. If doctors do not comply, our reimbursement rates will be cut by 1%, rising to a maximum of 5% by the end of the decade.
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Dec. 26, 2014, was strike three for Pamela Weldin.
The day after Christmas, Weldin, of Minatare, Neb., had logged on to Facebook to find a message from a friend of hers. Included in the note was a link to an article from the Omaha World-Herald announcing that CoOportunity Health, a nonprofit health insurance company offering plans in Nebraska and Iowa, had been taken over by state regulators.
The insurer, one of 23 Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, or co-ops, started with the backing of the federal government and received $145 million in loans from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But, CoOportunity’s expenses and medical claims would far exceed its revenue for 2014.
The Obamacare window technically just closed this weekend, but a new round of political headaches could just be beginning for the administration.
That’s because it’s tax season, and many Americans could soon be getting an unwelcome surprise that they owe the government a penalty for skipping health insurance coverage.
Up to 6 million Americans are expected to pay a penalty for not having coverage in 2014, according to recent Obama administration projections. The 2014 penalty for this tax season is $95, or 1 percent of family income — purposefully on the weaker side to let people adjust to this new coverage scheme. Most of the uninsured won’t actually face the penalty because they’ll qualify for an exemption, either related to their inability to afford coverage or some other hardship.
Behind the scenes, HealthCare.gov is still a mess.
The “back end” of the Obamacare website still isn’t properly wired to the health insurance companies. It’s slow going for health plans to make sure the 11.4 million people who have signed up end up in the right plan. Subsidy payments aren’t automated, so the insurers get payments based on estimates. And adding information like a marriage or the birth of a child is a convoluted, multi-step process.
Approaching ObamaCare With Humility
Washington can’t get out of Its own way on health care. Give states a chance.
President Obama spoke frequently of humility during last week’s prayer breakfast. Congressional Republicans could use a healthy measure of that virtue should the Supreme Court rule that ObamaCare subsidies are not available in the 37 states with federally-facilitated exchanges.
ObamaCare is the product of a yawning humility deficit. Its core conceit is that a group of very smart and ideologically like-minded people could reorganize the financing of a $3 trillion industry that touches the lives of 320 million Americans.
Its architects boast that more people have “selected a plan” this time around than during the program’s disastrous initial open season. They are quick to overlook the law’s wreckage – canceled policies, loss of employer-sponsored coverage, erroneous subsidies that will require people of modest means to repay the government with interest, and assorted other disruptions and deformations.
A law that is minutely prescriptive too often got its prescriptions horribly wrong. Its flaws will reach the point of absurdity should the Supreme Court rule that its attempt to subsidize health insurance made most health insurance subsidies illegal.
The case of King v. Burwell would be a simple one, but for its social and political implications. The Court is examining a defect in the law, one of many in what is perhaps the most poorly drafted statute in U.S. history. The provision in question provides that subsidized health insurance coverage is available only through an exchange “established by the state.”
The IRS effectively rewrote the law to allow subsidies to be paid as well through the 37 exchanges that were not “established by the state,” but by the federal government. In defending the agency, the Justice Department in essence argues that the IRS can change laws so that they conform to what Congress must surely have meant to write, rather than what they actually wrote.
The Court should instead base its ruling on the bedrock principle that only Congress has constitutional warrant to correct its own legislative blunders. If it does, health insurance subsidies will no longer be available to millions of people who live in states with federal exchanges, presenting 37 Governors with a stark choice between two unpalatable options: submit to ObamaCare’s flawed framework by establishing state exchanges or let their constituents forfeit subsidized coverage.
Democrats will pressure Governors to establish such exchanges while also pushing Congressional legislation to authorize the provision of subsidies through federal exchanges. Republicans are floating alternative proposals that would subsidize coverage for low-income people and those with pre-existing conditions, while stripping ObamaCare of mandates and relaxing some of its other requirements.
These proposals will meet with criticism, some of it justified. Getting the right subsidy in the right amount to the right person (or the right insurance company) on a monthly basis is tricky business. The Administration had 3-1/2 years from the law’s enactment to the launch of the exchanges to get it right. They didn’t. Erecting an alternative federally administered system in a matter of months would risk a similar fate.
Perhaps what is needed is not an alternative national system at all. ObamaCare’s serial pratfalls have led millions to question the federal government’s capacity to administer the law. A judicial smackdown five years after the law’s enactment will reinforce the view that Washington can’t get out of its own way on health care.
Republicans should embrace this sentiment and argue that health care is too important to be entrusted to the people who brought us ObamaCare. They should advocate that Governors be empowered to advance alternative ways of expanding coverage, springing them from ObamaCare’s take-it-or-leave-it trap.
Congressional Republicans could accomplish this by advancing a bill to provide capitated allotments to states that would be based on the amount of refundable tax credits that its residents received during 2014. To qualify for an allotment, a state would be required to develop a plan for providing affordable coverage to low-income residents and those with pre-existing conditions. Each state would decide how best to achieve these objectives, with the results subject to rigorous evaluation.
States that already have set up exchanges could keep them and those that have not could still establish them. But they also could instead choose to be freed from ObamaCare’s one-size-fits-all rigidities by opting to receive allotments. These allotments would provide the resources to launch innovative and effective alternatives to ObamaCare tailored to their state’s unique characteristics. If some states institute defective regimes, the damage would at least be quarantined and not induce national contagion.
Resisting the temptation to develop comprehensive national legislation will prove no easier for Republicans than it has been for Democrats. But if ObamaCare has taught us anything, it is that the good intentions behind sweeping legislation are often overcome by unintended consequences. The humility that might engender perhaps will make them think twice about devising a national regime of health insurance subsidies and instead give each state the opportunity to fashion programs best suited to their circumstances.