Friday, December 20, 2013

Cruising the Web

So who knew that Obama had the authority to decide that those people whose "subpar" individual plans got cancelled due to Obamacare can now purchase catastrophic plans to avoid the individual mandate? Amazing. They can't keep the plans that they were happy with but now they won't have to pay a $95 fine and buy a bare-bones plan instead of keeping the plan they like. And catastrophic plans have always been out there for those who wanted protection from catastrophes, but, otherwise, didn't have big health care needs. The administration could have been building a plan around getting the uninsured such plans instead of upending the whole system in order to get people more expensive plans that covered what they didn't need. But then that wouldn't have captured their payments to subsidize health care for those who are older and sicker. So, of course, insurers aren't happy to have a whole population taken out of the insurance market and sent to catasrophic plans instead of being forced into their new exchanges for a year. Expect this move to raise premiums for 2015 as insurance companies work out their costs.

Avik Roy explains how the administration has introduced even more chaos into their already chaotic law.
The announcement is supposed to help those whose health insurance has become so much more expensive under Obamacare, but, according to Roy, these new catastrophic plans are not that much cheaper than the Obamacare bronze plans - maybe about $20 cheaper a month. So don't expect many to buy these new plans. And all this affects the delicate accounting the insurance companies have been making to try to figure out how Obamacare will affect their offerings.

And it’s worth remembering that these exemptions are only a temporary reprieve, for the 2014 plan year. In 2015, without further decrees from the White House, all of the delayed Obamacare provisions will snap back to attention. In the meantime, we’re left to wonder: what will they think of next?
Ed Morrissey notes that Sebelius made this change under provisions in the law for hardship. But in this case, Obamacare itself is the hardship.
Yes, ObamaCare is the hardship. However, there’s another point, too. The individual mandate is a tax, don’t forget, and not just a regulatory requirement. Is there a “hardship exemption” from paying taxes on an individual basis? Not one of which I’m aware, and certainly not without Congressional action.
Scott Johnson has some fun with this.
The termination of insurance plans required by Obamacare is now deemed “an unexpected natural or human-caused event.” In other words, for those brought within the scope of the announcement, “Obamacare itself is the hardship.” Like terrorism by Napolitanos’s lights, Obamacare is a man-caused disaster.

Even Ezra Klein is a mite bit suspicious of this latest move.
6. But this puts the administration on some very difficult-to-defend ground. Normally, the individual mandate applies to anyone who can purchase qualifying insurance for less than 8 percent of their income. Either that threshold is right or it's wrong. But it's hard to argue that it's right for the currently uninsured but wrong for people whose plans were canceled.

7. Put more simply, Republicans will immediately begin calling for the uninsured to get this same exemption. What will the Obama administration say in response? Why are people who plans were canceled more deserving of help than people who couldn't afford a plan in the first place?

8. The same goes for the cheap catastrophic plans sold to customers under age 30 in the exchanges. A 45-year-old whose plan just got canceled can now purchase catastrophic coverage. A 45-year-old who didn't have insurance at all can't. Why don't people who couldn't afford a plan in the first place deserve the same kind of help as people whose plans were canceled?

9. The insurers aren't happy. "This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers," says Karen Ignani, head of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. They worry the White House is underestimating the number of people whose plans have been canceled and who will opt to either remain uninsured or buy catastrophic insurance rather than more comprehensive coverage.

10. This puts the first crack in the individual mandate. The question is whether it's the last. If Democratic members of Congress see this as solving their political problem with people whose plans have been canceled, it could help them stand against Republican efforts to delay the individual mandate. But if congressional Democrats use this ruling as an excuse to delay or otherwise de-fang the individual mandate for anyone who doesn't want to pay for insurance under Obamacare, then it'll be a very big problem for the law.
Oh, darn.

Michael Barone examines how Americans' reaction to Obamacare reflects their aversion to big government and how, since the 1930s, liberals have been misinterpreting Americans' response to the New Deal.

Charles Krauthammer explains how the administration has gone about basically establishing what they denied they were trying to establish.
I don’t care a whit for the insurance companies. They deserve what they get. They collaborated with the White House in concocting this scheme and are now being swallowed by it. But I do care about the citizenry and its access to a functioning, flourishing, choice-driven medical system.

Obamacare posed as a free-market alternative to a British-style single-payer system. Then, during congressional debate, the White House ostentatiously rejected the so-called “public option.” But that’s irrelevant. The whole damn thing is the public option. The federal government now runs the insurance market, dictating deadlines, procedures, rates, risk assessments and coverage requirements. It’s gotten so cocky it’s now telling insurers to cover the claims that, by law, they are not required to.

Welcome 2014, our first taste of nationalized health care.
Kimberly Strassel mocks Mary Landrieu's efforts to portray herself as the big defender of Louisiana's oil and gas industry, all the while her PAC contributes money to elect Democrats who then work to oppose her efforts to support oil and gas interests. This is the problem facing red state Democrats who argue that they vote for their state's interests against the party. However, they also vote to keep those Democratic leaders in power and negate their own individual efforts. And this investigation into the contributions from Landrieu's leadership PAC reveals that essential hypocrisy.
Ms. Landrieu has become adept over the years at telling Louisianans what they want to hear, even as she provides reliable support for the party's more liberal priorities—on ObamaCare, spending, and plenty else. Her JAZZ PAC contributions are a truer indication of her beliefs.
Slate's John Levin researches the woman made infamous by Ronald Reagan as a "welfare queen" and finds that she was even worse than depicted.

A new CBS poll finds that uninsured Americans, the ones the whole Obamacare mess was created to help, are surprisingly uninterested in getting Obamacare. The poll found that 58% of uninsured haven't even looked into buying Obamacare.

Jonathan S. Tobin explains the real problem with Obama envying Kevin Spacey's character, Frank Underwood, in Netflix's House of Cards.
We’re supposed to chuckle at this comment and regard it as an understandable expression of frustration by the president at the inability of Congress to do its job. But I’m afraid this crack tells us more about Obama’s way of governing that it does about the fact that neither House Speaker John Boehner nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can teach Frank Underwood much about passing legislation. The fact is, for five years Obama has sat in the White House and acted as if he had as little interest in accommodating the positions of his political foes as Underwood does. The problem isn’t that the West Wing and its congressional allies aren’t as “ruthlessly efficient” as the wicked Underwood, it’s that he has as negative an attitude toward the normal business of democracy as the character played by actor Kevin Spacey.

That sounds a little harsh so let me specify that, as much as I disagree with most of his policies, I haven’t joined the tin-foil hat brigade. I am not accusing the president of enacting wicked conspiracies aimed at subverting every notion of decency in a cold-blooded putsch to achieve total power as Frank does. Nor do I think he got to the White House by cheating or sabotaging his opponents as did Francis Urquhart, the protagonist of the far wittier but less darkly thrilling original British version of House of Cards.

But I do think that throughout his presidency he has demonstrated a studied contempt for the business of democracy. Not since Jimmy Carter have we had a president who was as uncomfortable working with members of Congress of his own party, let alone those from the opposition. Even more to the point, this is as top-down an administration as any in recent memory. Foreign policy has been largely dictated from the White House, as have efforts to push priorities in other areas. Partly this reflects the president’s high opinion of himself and his distrust, if not disdain, for the opinions of others. As his cabinet choices have shown (especially in his second term), with a few prominent exceptions (Hillary Clinton being one), this is a president who prefers yes men and women to strong leaders running departments. The echo chamber in the West Wing that has made it insensible to the opinions of Congress or the pubic when it comes to the president’s pet projects is a reflection of this attitude....

The president may want us to think his talk about envying Underwood was entirely humorous but, contrary to his less comical public statements about Congress, the trouble with Washington in the age of Obama isn’t that too many voices are heard but that we have a president who listens to no one but himself and an inner circle that seems to be afraid to contradict him. While efficiency would be nice, what the country needs is a president more inclined to work with Congress in the normal, non-dramatic manner that gets the best results in the Capitol, not the ruthless fantasy Obama harbors.

Philip Klein explains how the death spiral for insurance companies is really going to be 51 death spirals.
But what’s been largely lost in the ongoing discussion about whether a death spiral can happen is that there isn’t one Obamacare “risk pool” and thus, there isn’t one potential “death spiral.” In reality, there are 51 different risk pools (for each state plus the District of Columbia), which means 51 chances to get things right, as well as 51 possible death spirals.

It's perfectly possible that come March 31 - the current end of the open enrollment period - evidence will show a bit of both. That is, some exchanges may be viable, and some may find themselves in deep trouble. This could not only have implications for the 2014 elections, but it could affect how both parties approach health care policy.

The company that got a no-bid contract to build is working on another project for HHS. I guess their work on the Obamacare website served as their recommendation for more work.

One federal judge excoriates the partnership that Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security has forged with human traffickers and the Mexican drug cartels.

Documents from HHS reveal that the administration knew ahead of time about the security problems plaguing the website before its launch on October 1. So they launched this mess knowing that it would make Americans vulnerable to their private information getting hacked?