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GOP Pledges to Keep Tinkering
Posted By:  - 09/23/10

Although I'm hardly the first to say it, the GOP's brand spanking new "Pledge to America" sounds pretty darn familiar.  I'm not talking about the obvious reference to 1994's Contract with America, but 2010's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 

As the WonkRoom gleefully points out, the Pledge seems to be completely restating at least 7 practices that are ALREADY LAW.  To quote directly from the Pledge, "Health care should be accessible for all, regardless of pre-existing conditions or past illnesses. We will expand state high-risk pools, reinsurance programs and reduce the cost of coverage."  Sounded nice when President Obama said that too.

The problem here has been discussed ad nauseum.  The GOP summed it up nicely themselves back in April (apparently before their pollsters told them to shut-up), "The basic tenets of economics, combined with inherent self-interest, guarantee that people will wait until they are sick before they buy insurance now that Congress has guaranteed they can get it at any time."  Why on earth would any healthy person who currently pays for insurance continue to do so?  Even with a fine, it will still be cheaper to stop paying until you get sick!  It doesn't matter how many times you say it, this will NOT in any way shape or form bring down the cost of coverage.

What will?  Stop tinkering, Stop regulating, Stop mandating.  Allow insurance companies to compete.  Allow insurance companies to sell cheap plans that only cover catastrophes.  We've heard GOP representatives talk about how regulatory uncertainty has been cripping our markets.  Let's go ahead and take that advice.

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Six Months Later
Posted By:  - 09/23/10

Believe it or not, Obamacare turns six months old today, and the Administration has chosen to commemorate the occasion by launching a few of its new mandates. According to a White House website, beginning today, the federal government:

  • Bans discrimination against kids with pre-existing conditions.
  • Allows young adults to remain on their parents’ plan until their 26th birthday.
  • Prohibits insurance companies from cutting off your coverage when you’re sick if you made a mistake on your application.
  • Prohibits insurance companies from putting a lifetime limit on the amount of coverage you may receive, and restricts the use of annual limits until they are banned completely in 2014.

While these provisions may sound appealing at first glance, that intrigue is short-lived when you dive beneath the surface and discover the law’s true ramifications. The Heritage Foundation has a great piece out today on the specific groups that have been hardest hit by Obamacare…already.  

Employers: Heritage reiterates the damage of health care “reform” to small businesses, primarily in the form of a half of trillion dollars in new taxes and additional burdensome regulations. Hardly a recipe for economic recovery.

Doctors: Aside from “gaming the system” by “pretending to cut doctor Medicare reimbursement by 23%,” Obamacare will make it near impossible for doctors to establish their own hospitals and slaps them with "thousands of hours of new reporting requirements." Given the vast number of new mandates and massive Medicaid expansion, recent studies show Obamacare will be 300,000 nurses and 100,000 doctors short of what is needed by 2020. Scary.

Consumers: If you like it, you CAN’T keep it. I have written quite a few blog posts on this topic, but I’ll review. By eliminating caps on coverage, it could force insurance companies to significantly raise costs or eliminate niche markets, like mini-med plans, altogether. That would be detrimental to many low-wage workers (who rely on these low-cost plans) since insurance exchanges and tax credits will not be available until 2014. Furthermore, your health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are in grave danger of becoming extinct. According to Heritage, “Obamacare’s regulations are likely to incentivize employers to dump 35 million Americans out of their current health care plan.”

States: By 2017, taxpayers will foot the bill for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, leading many states to an even more dismal budget crisis. Enough said.

Seniors: The President’s Medicare Actuary projects that payment reductions to hospitals, home health agencies, and nursing homes could potentially hinder access to care for older Americans. Not to mention, Medicare Advantage enrollment is expected to drop from 14.8 to 7.4 million. Heritage has a separate post that further outlines the exorbitant cuts to Medicare Advantage.

Thank you, Heritage, for your unfailing ability to bring many of these specifics to light. After all, the devil is in the details, right? Happy Six Month Anniversary, Obamacare. Let’s hope we’re six months closer to repealing you.

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Hello, Higher Premiums!
Posted By:  - 09/08/10

This past April I wrote about the potential for ObamaCare to increase premiums for young adults by as much as 17%, or roughly $42 each month. That’s certainly not an insignificant sum as all Americans continue to cut back on expenses to try and make ends meet. Now we’re hearing that premiums could increase as much as 20%, and not just for young people. In today's Wall Street Journal, we read that companies such as Aetna Inc., BlueCross BlueShield, and other smaller carriers have asked for premium increases in response to the new health care law.

As expected, health insurers are saying they must raise their rates in order to comply with new health care mandates, including new benefits to enable children to stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26 and eliminate lifetime and certain annual coverage caps. While insurers do have to submit any proposed fee changes to designated regulators for official approval, the process varies by state. Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger says she can ‘deny only rate increases that are unreasonable and discriminatory.’ Needless to say, insurers are smart enough to avoid hikes that are in blatant violation of the law, so I wouldn’t place too much hope in the Obama Administration’s claim that regulators will block large increases. After all, didn’t the same Administration once promise to spare families making less than $250,000 a year from higher taxes? We know that didn’t happen!

According to the WSJ, “The rate increases largely apply to policies for individuals and small businesses and don’t include people covered by a big employer or Medicare.” Approximately 9% of Americans purchase coverage through an individual plan and 1/5 of workers (who receive insurance through their employer) work at a company with 50 or fewer employees. Futhermore, the Seattle Times reports that these increases may be larger for individuals whose ages end in "5" or "0" because insurers can "hike rates for each five-year increase in age." The newspaper cites a 60-year-old self-employed hairdresser in Washington who just witnessed her health insurance go from $643 to $899 per month. While increases may primarily apply to new policies written after October 1, individuals will be subject to them if they alter their existing plans - many of which are likely to become inadequate once other options are presented.

Yet another reason why ObamaCare is bad news for taxpayers and must be repealed.

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A Different Kind of Packing List
Posted By:  - 08/18/10

How many of you have young adults getting ready to head off to college? The Wall Street Journal wrote up a very interesting piece on what you should be packing, and I'm not talking about fridges, linens, and a collage of your favorite family photos. This to-do list won't require a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, but it's just as important.

The article discusses a myriad of items to get in order, such as cash strategy and car insurance, but I want to highlight one in particular: health insurance. The rules have changed so much this past year and it's important for you to be prepared. As I mentioned in a previous post, the new health care law will allow many kids to stay on their parents' health plan until age 26, but that provision technically doesn't take effect until September. The WSJ says, "While some plans are offering the coverage right away, others won't adopt the rule until their plan begins in 2011." If your plan does offer the coverage, make sure you get details before you send your child to school in a different state. Why? Jen Kozin, a public policy major at Duke University, needed emergency surgery in North Carolina. Her parents assumed health insurance wouldn't be a problem since their family plan, Blue Cross Blue Shield, had always been good in Massachusetts, but the WSJ reports that the Kozins' plan "treated urgent care differently from regular care." While the Kozins were able to get things straightened out after a slew of phone calls (Blue Cross initially hesitated to pay Jen's medical bill), other families have not been as lucky.

A lot of schools try to sell you on their in-house health insurance plan, but Stephen Beckley, a consultant on student health plans, claims many of these offers are 'totally junk.' According to the WSJ, "60% exclude pre-existing conditions, have high deductibles, offer little or no prescription benefit or have maximum coverage of less than $100,000." Hannah Gomez signed up for insurance at the University of Arizona, but was caught off-guard after failing to read the fine print. The plan covered nothing until she paid $1,000 out-of-pocket and offered limited help with physical therapy - a huge problem after she tore a ligament in her elbow.

As you prepare your kids for this next chapter in their lives, remember what's most important and prioritize those items before stressing about them having the most stylish dorm room on campus. Your pocketbook (and child!) will thank you down the road.  

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What Happened to America's Favorite Sheriff?
Posted By:  - 08/05/10

Remember Andy Taylor, the rock-solid, good-natured sheriff from Mayberry, North Carolina? Nothing beats those opening credits (yes, I still watch reruns!) when he and his son, Opie (Ron Howard), walk down the country road, fishing rods in hand and whistling in the background. It was one of America's most beloved shows with one of America's most non-controversial actors, right? Eh not so much anymore…

It seems Sheriff Taylor has bought into Obama's health care propaganda. A commercial staring Andy Griffith is now airing nationwide in an effort to sell Obamacare's supposed Medicare benefits and boost unfavorable polling numbers. Here's one line from the ad: "With the new health care law, more good things are coming: free checkups, lower prescription costs, and better ways to protect us and Medicare from fraud." Why the push to senior citizens? Politico says they are the demographic "most skeptical" of the new law.

Here's the worst part: the commercial cost taxpayers $700,000! As if the new health care law wasn't already expensive enough, we're expected to dish out even more in order for Obama and friends to sell lies to the America people.

Andy Griffith's last line? "I think you're going to like it." Don't hold your breath, Sheriff.

Here's the video. Let us know your thoughts!

 

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A Bureaucratic Nightmare
Posted By:  - 08/03/10

Have you tried counting the number of new agencies, boards and commissions created under Obamacare? Don't waste your time. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently released a report that claims such an estimation would be "impossible" and "unknowable." Why? According to Politico (and previously mentioned in multiple NTU blog posts), the provisions of the law vary dramatically and many of its details are yet to be determined, much less released.

Politico writes: "The law says a lot about some of them and a little about many, and merely mentions a few. Some have been authorized without instructions on who is to appoint whom, when that might happen and who will pay." Confusing, I know, but that means a number of agencies are in an interminable waiting period until they receive further instruction, and then there are others that have the authority to spawn new organizations if just one entity is insufficient. CRS says the Patient-Centered Research Institute "'may appoint permanent or ad hoc expert advisory panels as determined appropriate.' How many such panels will be 'determined appropriate' by the institute is currently unclear." How can a bill that's 900+ pages long possibly be this ambiguous?

Politico goes on to assert that the law's lack of specificity could result in more complicated congressional oversight. I'd venture to say it could result in little to no congressional oversight! One example, as presented in the CRS report, is the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Obamacare requires the GAO to appoint at least 83 new members to six new boards, but how can they be accurately and independently audited when the U.S. comptroller general has appointed their members? For those of you still questioning this potential conflict of interest, remember that the comptroller general is chief leader of the GAO.

The Politico article explains the debate in greater detail, so I encourage you to give it a read. One thing is for certain: we have no real picture of how Obamacare will affect us now and down the road. It could be years before these provisions are fully enumerated…maybe longer.

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Will Missouri voters be the first say “no” to Obamacare?
Posted By:  - 07/29/10

On August 5th, Missouri will hold a special, historic election. On the ballot will be Proposition C, also known as the Missouri Health Care Freedom Act. Referred to the voters by the Missouri Legislature, Proposition C is Missouri's response to President Obama's health care law ("Obamacare') that will substantially enlarge the size of government, raise taxes, limit choice in care, and interfere with the patient-doctor relationship. NTU has urged its members in Missouri to support Proposition C.

As we wrote to our members, "Obamacare represents the federal government's largest-ever intervention in the U.S. economy and personal health care decisions. Obamacare will require all Americans to have health insurance. Those who don't have coverage will be penalized. In the process, Obamacare will increase total federal spending by $2.6 trillion and raise taxes by half a trillion dollars over the next decade. What's more, Obamacare includes a number of hidden taxes we are only just beginning to understand and accounting gimmicks that hide its ominous cost."

But as more Americans learn about the cost of Obamacare and how it will intrude on the doctor-patient relationship, the more they say they don't want politicians in Washington making decisions about their health care. Now, we hear about lawsuits by the states against Obamacare and initiatives like Proposition C in Missouri. A "yes" vote on Proposition C will amend Missouri law to prohibit the government from punishing a citizen who doesn't buy the insurance Washington wants them to, and would uphold every American's right to pay for his or her health care directly. We hope Missouri makes history on Tuesday August 3rd by being the first state to say "no" to Obamacare and "yes" to health care freedom.

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Seeing ObamaCare Through Rose Colored Glasses
Posted By: Kristina Rasmussen - 07/20/10

RS Logo

"How Health Care Reform Affects You." Chances are you've seen an article along these lines pop up in your magazines of choice lately. I certainly have. Chances are the articles gloss over the major problems inherent in ObamaCare -- if they're not a straight out endorsement of the takeover.

Stephen Spruiell takes the latest incarnation of this problem to task in "Real Simpletons: A popular magazine ignores the downside to Obamacare."

My wife subscribes to Real Simple, a women's-interest magazine specializing in articles on how to make life more organized. I often joke that our lives would be more organized if we didn't have eight copies of Real Simple floating around the apartment at any given time. But since they are around, I'll flip through them occasionally to see if there's anything worth reading. And today, in the latest issue, I saw a short feature titled "How Health-Care Reform Affects You."

The article reads like an advertisement for Obamacare. One would be forgiven for thinking it a part of the administration's campaign to improve the legislation's popularity. Here is a complete list of the article's subheads:

  • More services will be paid for in full.
  • Lifetime limits are history.
  • Your children can remain on your policy until age 26.
  • Kids with preexisting conditions cannot be denied coverage.
  • Insurers have to spend more money on care.

That's it: All good, no bad, and the only two sources quoted in the article represent non-profits who supported the legislation. Don't take my word for it: While the article isn't available online, you can hear a podcast of the article (alas, the third of three recorded items) here.

Readers of Real Simple: now would be a good time to send a letter to their editor. Here's a quick highlight of the many, many problems with ObamaCare.

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Massachusetts Leaves Tough Decisions to Local Governments
Posted By:  - 07/07/10

If awards for work shirking existed, Massachusetts would win in a walk. Last week, Governor Deval Patrick signed a budget that severely cuts funding to local governments but prohibits them from reforming one of the most costly aspects of their budget, namely health care plans for public employees.

Massachusetts state and local public employees receive generous health benefits. Currently, local government workers pay only $5 copayments when they visit a doctor. There is no question that such benefits put pressure on local government budgets. But only the state, not the local government, can modify employee health care plans through their Group Insurance Commission. In fact, local governments must get approval for all cost-saving steps by the municipal unions, who have incentives to maintain the benefits for their members rather than find savings for taxpayers. Allowing local government to modify their health benefits could ultimately save $100 million a year and help preserve the health care system, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Geoffrey Beckwith, the Executive Director of the MMA said, "The current [public employee health care benefits] system is unaffordable - it costs taxpayers too much, crowds out important services, and forces the elimination of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other workers."

Massachusetts' unwillingness to give local governments the ability to address the cost of health care gives the municipalities the mother of all unfunded mandates, namely providing the same health care plan to their employees, but with less money. The state has left the tough decisions to local government but has simultaneously tied their hands. Reforms of public employee health benefits are an important step in reducing government spending. Local governments in Massachusetts should have the same power as the state does to modify health benefits.

 

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Obamacare Strikes Again
Posted By:  - 07/07/10

It looks like retailers and tanning salons are not the only businesses to be adversely affected by Obamacare; restaurants will take a hit as well. Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that one provision of the new health care law could cost White Castle, a Columbus-based chain specializing in hamburger sliders, roughly 55% of its net yearly income after 2014: "Starting that year, the bill levies a $3,000-per-employee penalty on companies whose workers pay more than 9.5 percent of household income in premiums for company-provided insurance."

White Castle currently pays between 70 and 89 percent of employees' premium costs, so the company anticipates a heavy price tag to comply with the law and says the provision will make it difficult to maintain its 421 restaurants nationwide. Does everyone agree with this prediction? Definitely not. According to the same article, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union "questions White Castle's calculations." Their spokesperson, Steven Kreisberg, claims White Castle will be saving money while they're paying the penalty since some workers will opt for federal coverage and spare the company from having to pay insurance for those individuals. That may be true, but what happens if there is a mass migration of young, healthy employees out of the company insurance plan and into the federal exchange? Wouldn't that drive up costs for White Castle since they no longer have as many "healthy" people in their plan? It's almost guaranteed to be a no-win situation because they will have to pay a penalty either way: the aforementioned $3,000 fee and/or a $2,000-per-employee fee if workers end up going with federal coverage.

How can the Obama Administration continue to make the argument that this health care "reform" will be good for small businesses and overall job creation? The numbers just don't add up. Will uncertainty surrounding the law diminish as details and timelines are ironed out in the coming months? Maybe, but don't hold your breath.

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