Arkansas earned some distinction with its approach to the unpopularity of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and using federal money for that purpose to help its citizens. Rather than expanding the program, Arkansans have the option to use that money to purchase private insurance. However, GOP lawmakers in the state are opposed to this measure and are working to reform the practice.
In a column in the Arkansas Times, Max Brantley highlights Rep. Josh Mille,r who opposes the measure,but has benefitted personally from the Medicaid program. In 1997, he was in an automobile accident involving alcohol that left him paralyzed. Uninsured at the time, his ultimately $1 million healthcare bill was “mostly” picked up by the government, and he was on disability for a time. Brantley uses Miller’s case as evidence that the motivation of the Arkansas GOP is only against this because it wants to undermine the Democratic president’s signature policy.
Brantley takes it a step further, saying that Miller believes “some who qualify for the private option aren’t working hard enough.” He says that someone (not him) who is “coldly rational” would look at this debate and believe “a cook in a fast-food restaurant, working long hours at low pay to feed a family, looks more deserving than an uninsured person injured on a drunken joy ride.”
In a telephone interview with Opposing Views, Miller denied that was ever his position. “I can’t speak for every other legislator in Arkansas,” he said. “I opposed it from the beginning, but not because I feel like anyone is unworthy.” Miller does not seem to be a politician caught up in partisan fervor or with any sort of larger, national ambitions. Instead, he seems genuinely concerned about the future of Arkansas and America, with respect to debt.
In his comments from the floor of the Arkansas House, Miller speaks about the danger of entering into an agreement with “a financing agent who is trillions of dollars in debt.” He reasserted that belief, saying that he doesn’t oppose expanding healthcare, but has “uncertainty about [Arizona’s] ability to pick up the tab” after three years when Arkansas would have to pay for a larger share of the program.
Denying anything involving politics, he asserted, “I am [opposing the private option] for fear of traditional Medicaid, to prevent it from taking further cuts.” Of his own experiences through his recovery and rehabilitation, he said that the current system “has been in need of improvements.” He worries that when the bill comes due, Arkansans will be forced to take one of three actions. People would have to be removed from the program that they signed up for “in good faith,” as a way to cut costs. Alternatively, the only other options are to raise taxes or cut other existing services.
In an interview Thursday on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC show, Miller said that he wasn’t pushing for the removal of people already in the program, but merely hoping to “slow down enrollment.” He suggested that during the next legislative session in 2015, they could figure out a way to pay for the Medicaid expansion for years to come.
At least, for the moment, they’ve stopped trying to repeal it.
After over 40 failed attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act, serious GOP legislators decided that rather than try to slay a political dragon, they would try a little governance and perhaps try to fix their specific problems with the law. One such congressman was Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., who submitted H.R. 2575, or the Save American Workers Act. For the purposes of healthcare, the law would redefine full-time work as 40 hours per week instead of 30, a way around the much-maligned employer mandate.
Yet an analysis released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office painted the picture that the bill would do more harm than good. Adding those ten weekly hours would see “about 1 million people” lose their health insurance. Consequently, somewhere between half a million to a million people would end up insured via a (likely subsidized) health exchange plan or through Medicaid. The remainder — less than half a million people — would wind up uninsured.
Employers who do not provide full-time employees with health insurance must pay a fine to the government, but this bill cut that amount considerably by making fewer companies subject to that penalty. All told, the bill would end up costing the taxpayers $73.7 billion over the next ten years.
While Young should be commended for trying to pass a bill that reforms the law rather than seeking outright to repeal it, the Los Angeles Times said that Young and his 208 cosponsors handled it “so ineptly,” and that it would ultimately make “the problem they’re addressing much worse.”
Part of the justification behind dropping the full-time threshold to 30 hours per week is that it would be much more difficult for employers to scale back hours for full-time employees than it would be if the line was drawn at 40 hours per week.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is facing a hard re-election in November because she supported the Affordable Care Act, which has provided Medicaid coverage for over 6 million uninsured low-income people in the United States.
While providing millions of Americans with health care coverage might seem like a plus for most politicians, NPR recently went to the southern part of Louisiana and interviewed voters who hate Obama and "Obamacare" (audio below).
“I don’t vote for black people, lady,” said voter Beau Broussard. “No, ma’am. I don’t vote for black people. They got their place, I got my place. That’s the way I was raised.”
"If she hadn't voted for Obamacare, I'd still vote for her because she helped the people," added Broussard.
Landrieu’s supporters say they will vote for her in spite of her stance on the ACA because she has sided with big oil and offshore drilling, even though BP destroyed the coast when its offshore rig leaked tons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The billionaire Koch brothers via their Americans for Prosperity front group have been airing an ad in Louisiana featuring actors playing local citizens to slam Landrieu on the ACA, reports ABC News.
“Due to the Affordable Care Act, your monthly premium has increased,” a voice-over says in the ad. “No longer covered, due to the Affordable Care Act.”
However, the reality is health insurance companies and state regulators set monthly premium prices, not the Affordable Care Act, noted FactCheck.org.
A gay couple filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming they were unable to obtain family health insurance because their state, Ohio, does not recognize same-sex marriage, according to Reuters.
Alfred Cowger and Anthony Wesley have been a couple since 1986 and were married in New York State in 2012. They have a daughter who was adopted in 2006 according to the suit. The family of three had previously been covered by the same family health insurance policy, purchased from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio.
Their suit names the U.S. government and the state of Ohio as defendants and charges that their constitutional rights were violated because neither party recognizes their marital status.
Although the couple, and their daughter, had previously been covered as a family new rules in President Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), make that policy invalid. Cowger and Wesley had previously been assured by Anthem that they would be able to remain under their old policy after December of 2013 but received a letter in November stating the policy had been terminated “because it was not in compliance with the ACA.”
Cowger claims he repeatedly tried to purchase a new policy through the ACA’s website healthcare.gov.
"However, each time, Cowger would ultimately be told that it was determined that plaintiffs could not purchase a family policy since their legal marriage in New York, recognized as valid for federal tax purposes, was not deemed valid to obtain a family policy under the ACA," the suit said.
The couple is puzzled as to why they are able to file a joint tax return but cannot purchase family health insurance under the president’s healthcare plan, commonly called Obamacare.
The issue in Ohio will likely not be an isolated incident as same-sex marriage gains steam around the country. Currently 17 states and the District of Columbia recognize the right for gay couples to marry. A judge in nearby Kentucky recently ruled that that state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Cowger and Wesley will likely have to wait for such reform in their state. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported last week that gay marriage advocates won’t push the issue in Ohio until 2016 when they feel there will be sufficient voter support.
Although Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said President Barack Obama was unaware of the problems with Healthcare.gov, she visited the White House 18 times before the problematic launch of the federal healthcare exchange.
From Oct. 27, 2012, to Oct. 6, 2013, Sebelius met or attended calls and events with the president at least 18 times, according to documents obtained by The Hill through a Freedom of Information Act request.
She had multiple meetings with one of Obama’s closest advisors, Pete Rouse, and calls and meetings with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.
In the months leading up to the rollout, Sebelius was often at the White House. Problems with the Obamacare website were clear on Oct. 1, 2013. Both Sibelius and Obama have said he was unaware of the issues.
“On the website, I was not informed directly that the website would not be working the way it was supposed to. Had I been informed, I wouldn’t be going out saying, boy, this is going to be great,” Obama said during a Nov. 14 press conference.
HHS told The Hill in a statement that Sebelius is often at the White House for a variety purposes.
“She is frequently at the White House for meetings on a wide range of topics, including the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. As we have also said, the Affordable Care Act is more than just a website, and consistent with other significant policy initiatives, there was coordination across the Administration on a broad range of policy and implementation topics,” the agency said.
The documents also show she met personally with influential journalists like Ezra Klein of the Washington post and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times leading up to the rollout.
“As has been widely reported, in the months leading up to open enrollment, Secretary Sebelius met with a broad range of individuals and stakeholders to help get the word out about enrollment, and to spotlight our education and outreach efforts,” said HHS spokesperson Joanne Peters.
In a report released Wednesday, data showed that more than 1 million people signed up for private health insurance in January. This raises the number of total enrollees in the insurance exchanges to 3.3 million. The surge in enrollment is good news for the Obama administration’s goal of 7 million enrollments by the end of March.
The exchanges were opened in October as part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly dubbed “Obamacare.”
Some argue that the numbers are inflated. Insurance analysts argue that many newcomers to the exchanges may have enrolled but have not yet paid premiums into the system and should not be counted.
“The numbers are not as high as 3.3 million -- it’s lower,” one senior insurance industry source told Fox News. “Those numbers are inflated. The question is how much.”
Inflated or not, many question why the new numbers are not being touted by the president as a huge success.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama’s only public appearance was to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal workers. There was no mention of the seemingly positive healthcare report.
The reason, some say, is that the negative impact of the infamously botched rollout of the healthcare exchanges and the website HealthCare.gov will hurt Democratic incumbents in Congress during the 2014 midterm elections. Therefore, Democrats are distancing themselves from any mention of the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration is seeking to provide them cover by keeping quiet on the issue as well.
“Really, it’s more ammo for the primary opponents in the Democratic Party,” Republican Party strategist Ford O’Connell said.
Democratic incumbents may still face stout opposition from Republicans in hotly contested states. In Florida, Rep. Joe Garcia, Democrat, is running not as a proponent of the Affordable Care Act but as a legislator willing to fight the insurance companies to fix it. His campaign is being helped partially by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Political Action Committee. Such a move signals that many key Democrats are circling the wagons, preparing for a fight in 2014.
The controversial legislation has been Obama’s centerpiece domestic legislation, but it has struggled to gain popularity. The law is blamed for costing Democrats the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, and support for it is still below 50 percent in most polls.
There ain’t no victory like an Obamacare victory, because an Obamacare victory…isn’t exactly a victory at all. The embattled program announced enrollment numbers recently and hit its proposed 1.1 million new enrollee-goal. This marks the first-time in the program’s history that it didn’t fall short of projected numbers. Yet, according to an anonymous insurance industry insider who spoke to Fox News, “Those numbers are inflated. The question is how much.[sic]”
Breitbart.com broke it down further, saying that the numbers offered by the Obama administration reflect those who’ve enrolled but not paid their first premium. Thus, those who may have been dropped and then reenrolled would be counted twice. It is believed that the numbers of enrollees who’ve not yet paid their bills is around 20 to 30 percent.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that insurance companies were the best source for that information. According to CNN, he said, “It is a contract between an individual or - well, an individual even representing his or her family - and a private insurance provider. So insurance companies obviously have data about when those payments are made.”
The online apparatus for paying premiums was one of the things not yet ready when Healthcare.gov rolled out to disastrous results in October of 2013. However, they are developing a system that will track payments, specifically for Medicare and Medicaid. A CNN Money article from last month takes an optimistic approach, suggesting that as the site works out its problems more people will start paying.
Even with the inflated numbers—totaling 3.3 million enrollees—the program will most likely fall short of the March 31 goal of 6 million enrollees from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. So far, according to Fox News, the Administration is not considering extending open enrollment past that date.
On Monday the Obama administration delayed another contentious piece of the embattled Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known by some as "Obamacare."
The delay, the second in a year, applies to medium-sized businesses — those with 50 to 99 employees. The new rules, announced by the Treasury Department, stipulate that such businesses would be given until 2016 to provide health insurance for employees before having to pay a penalty. The delay extends the so-called employer mandate two years beyond what was originally envisioned.
Larger companies, with over 100 employees, will also receive a break. Those larger employers will only be required to offer coverage for 70 percent of workers by 2015 as opposed to the originally planned 95 percent.
Treasury officials pointed out that companies seeking to benefit from this new grace period will have to prove that they have not shrunk their workforces in order to comply.
GOP lawmakers have taken the opportunity to argue, again, that the mandate-based law is bad for the economy and that the delays are proof that the Obama administration is aware of its weaknesses.
"Much like the individual mandate, the business mandate is bad for middle-class families and it will harm economic growth," House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a statement. "But the answer to this problem is not random unilateral changes.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky agreed but went one step further, pushing for the individual mandate to also be delayed. "It's time to extend that exemption to families and individuals — not just businesses,” he said.
The individual mandate went into effect at the beginning of this year.
While Republican lawmakers keep busy arguing that such delays prove the legislation is flawed, representatives of medium-sized businesses are pleased with the moderated approach the administration has adopted.
"I'm pretty pleasantly astounded by what I've seen on first read here," said Neil Trautwein, a lobbyist with the National Retail Federation. "This is really the antithesis of the botched rollout of the exchanges, and I think they have tried mightily to smooth the impact of the penalty-mandate structure on the business community.”
AIDS and HIV patients in Louisiana who have insurance under Obamacare are in danger of losing their coverage as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana begins rejecting checks over fraud concerns.
BCBS of Louisiana says it can’t accept checks from a federal program designed to help HIV/AIDS patients pay for medical care, called the Ryan White CARE Act, Reuters reported.
As BCBS interprets their responsibility for preventing fraud under the Affordable Care Act, the insurance provider says they’re not allowed to accept third party checks from anyone not related to the patient.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said in September that Ryan White funds could be used to pay Obamacare premiums, but in November it warned that “hospitals, other healthcare providers, and other commercial entities” have “significant concerns” accepting Ryan White payments because of the risk of fraud.
"As an anti-fraud measure, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana has implemented a policy, across our individual health insurance market, of not accepting premium payments from any third parties who are not related" to the subscriber, BCBS of Louisiana spokesman John Maginnis told Reuters.
"In no event will coverage be provided to any subscribers, as of March 1, 2014, unless the premiums are paid by the subscriber (or a relative) unless otherwise required by law,” he said.
A CMS spokeswoman, Tasha Bradley, told Reuters Friday that BCBS is mistaken.
"The third-party payer guidance CMS released (in November) does not apply to" Ryan White programs, Bradley said.
White grantees, "may use funds to pay for premiums on behalf of eligible enrollees in Marketplace plans, when it is cost-effective for the Ryan White program," meaning it could save the government money.
Hundreds of patients are enrolled in the Ryan White program and are not eligible for Medicaid in Louisiana because the state refused to expand the low-income program.
Healthcare advocates worry that the refusal to take Ryan White checks is an effort to keep AIDS patients from enrolling with BCBS.
The insurer says this is untrue.
"We welcome all Louisiana residents who chose Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana," said Maginnis.
"BCBS LA told me their decision was not due to the CMS guidance or any confusion (as we thought before) but was in fact due to adverse selection concerns," a healthcare expert from Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s staff told Reuters in an email. "I have also recently learned North Dakota's BCBS plan has implemented the same policy."
CBO Director’s Contradictory Testimony: Obamacare Creates ‘Disincentive’ To Work, But It Will Reduce Unemployment
Director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Officer, Douglas Elmendorf, told a House committee Wednesday that Obamacare creates a “disincentive for people to work" and yet will reduce unemployment.
Elmendorf testified before the House Budget Committee, after the CBO released a detailed report claiming millions of workers could work fewer hours or stop working because of benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
Elmendorf said the subsidies provided by Obamacare make low-income people “better off.”
"The act creates a disincentive for people to work," Elmendorf said, under questioning from Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
“So who are these workers?” Ryan asked. “I mean, I know this is the statistical realm, but who are the people typically in this category? What kind of worker – from an income-scale side – are being affected by this?”
“The effect is principally on the labor supply of lower-wage workers,” Elmendorf replied.
Ryan said workers wouldn’t have to be laid off to receive benefits; they could simply choose not to work.
"As a result ... that [lower] labor supply lowers economic growth," Ryan said.
"Yes, that's right,” Elmendorf agreed.
Ryan noted that means fewer people will be “joining the middle class.”
"It's adding insult to injury. As the welfare state expands, the incentive to work declines -- meaning grow the government, you shrink the economy."
Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the report is evidence that "the president's health care law is destroying full-time jobs.”
"This fatally flawed health care scheme is wreaking havoc on working families nationwide," Kline added.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the CBO report is being widely misinterpreted.
Van Hollen said the ACA will “boost overall demand for goods and services” which will “boost demand for labor over the next few years.”
“When you boost demand for labor in this kind of economy, you actually reduce the unemployment rate, because those people who are looking for work can find more work, right?” he asked Elmendorf.
“Yes, that’s right,” Elmendorf responded.
“I just want it to be very clear,” Van Hollen said, “that the director of the Congressional Budget Office says for this year and the next couple years, actually, it will help reduce unemployment. More people who are looking for work will find work as a result of the Affordable Care Act.”
Van Hollen criticized the media for portraying Obamacare as a jobs killer.
“I think it’s really important that that information gets out there,” he later said, “because as the media has confessed, they bought hook, line and sinker some of the talking points from our Republican colleagues. And unfortunately misrepresentation go around the world three times before the truth begins to catch up.”