Written by Arnold Ahlert
Those Americans who watched Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s testimony yesterday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee might be forgiven for thinking they were in an alternate universe. Despite her assertion that Americans should ”hold me accountable” for the ongoing debacle, Sebelius later claimed she was never warned by anyone that the scheduled roll out of the Healthcare.gov website would be the disaster it turned out to be. Furthermore, she stood by the assertion that the president has been “keeping his promise” with regard to the idea that Americans who liked their insurance policies could keep them. Fittingly, during the entire three and a half hours the Secretary testified, the Healthcare.gov website was down.
Sebelius’s contention that she was not warned of the problems with the website is a lie. CNN reveals they obtained a confidential report showing that while website creator CGI executives were publicly testifying about achieving milestones, they warned the administration a month before the launch that there were “a number of open risks and issues” associated with the website.
Undoubtedly, Americans are far more interested in the far bigger lie perpetrated by this administration, highlighted by the exchange between Sebelius and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). “Before, during and after the law was passed the president kept saying if you like your health care plan, you can keep it, so is he keeping his promise?” asked Blackburn. “Yes, he is,” Sebelius replied. When Blackburn noted the reality that 300,000 people in Florida and 28,000 in Tennessee had their policies terminated, Sebelius contended that “they can get health insurance.”
The president didn’t promise people they could get health insurance. “No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what,” Obama said in remarks made to the American Medical Association in 2009.
In 2010, after the law’s enactment, Obama made the same promise. “And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn’t happened yet. It won’t happen in the future.” he said.
Nothing changed in 2012. “If [you] already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance,” reiterated Obama.
On Tuesday, it was Press Secretary Jay Carney’s turn when he claimed the president “was clear about a basic fact. If you had insurance that you liked on the individual market, and you wanted to keep that insurance…you could,” he contended. The Whitehouse.gov website made the same assertion as recently as yesterday. “If you like your plan you can keep it and you don’t have to change a thing due to the health care law.”
As NBC News reports, the Obama administration knew as early as 2010 that assertion was a lie. Despite promising that some insurance policies in non-compliance with the current law would be “grandfathered” into the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services tightened the provisions for that grandfathering three months after the bill’s passage. If any part of a policy was significantly changed, such as a deductible or copay, it no longer qualified for grandfather status.
According to the Washington Post, “significant” meant as little as a $5.00 change in one’s copay, ”plus the medical cost of inflation” (which would have been $5.20 based on last year’s inflation rate of 4 percent), or any increase in the coinsurance rate above what it was when the law went into effect on March 23, 2010. Moreover, in the bill itself, there was a statement noting that the normal turnover in the insurance market would cause “40 to 67 percent” of customers to lose their policies.
Despite this reality, Sebelius essentially testified the American public was not only aware of these technical changes, but that they represented a “wide corridor” allowing Americans to keep their existing policies. Thus, contended Sebelius, the president was being truthful.
The Post inadvertently reveals the utter absurdity of that contention, noting that those technical changes Sebelius cites are contained in Vol. 75 of the Federal Register, dated June 17, 2010, three months after the bill was passed, and the regulations themselves are listed on pages 34,560 through 34,562.
At a later point in her testimony, Sebelius contradicted herself, conceding that Americans remain largely uninformed about the healthcare bill, heartily agreeing with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) that a “real marketing campaign” was necessary to make sure Americans, especially the young who must sign up to keep the system viable, get better informed about the healthcare website.
Doyle was at least affable. Most of his Democratic colleagues were far more interested in praising and protecting Sebelius, as well as castigating Republicans, than getting answers about the problems plaguing the roll out of the program. Republicans were alternately accused of “sabotaging the bill,” “rooting for failure,” and being on “the wrong side of history.” Democrats further extolled the virtues of ObamaCare, and the great benefits it was providing to millions of Americans, even as Sebelius steadfastly refused to release any figures regarding the number of people who have actually signed up for insurance. When asked if the administration would lift a gag order and allow insurance companies to provide those numbers to the public, Sebelius said no.
One of the more pointed exchanges occurred between Sebelius and Rep. Mike Rodgers (R-MI). Addressing security issues with the website, Rodgers got Sebelius to admit that she did not know whether or not each code fix being added to the website was tested for security. Sebelius insisted that security is “an ongoing operation,” yet when Rodgers asked if the system had been tested “end to end,” Sebelius didn’t know the answer.
Rodgers did. He had documentation stating that the website would be rolled out despite the fact that security was only partially completed and that “this constitutes a risk that must be accepted before the marketplace day one operations.” Rodgers was incensed. “You accepted a risk on behalf of every user of this computer that put their personal financial information at risk, because you did not have even the most basic end-to-end test on the security of this system,” he said. When Rodgers asked if Sebelius would commit to shutting down the system until an end-to-end test of security was conducted she declined, and insisted that ongoing testing is underway. In other words, no end-to-end test has been conducted, and Americans’ confidential information remains at risk — all of which is apparently fine with Sebelius.
Perhaps it is fine because Sebelius has her own healthcare plan, a point emphasized by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO). He told Sebelius that he had rejected the Cadillac coverage offered Congress, and enrolled in a plan in the individual market, only to discover that plan was being discontinued due to ObamaCare. He asked the Secretary why she hadn’t subjected herself to a similar experience, drawing the only applause during the entire hearing. Sebelius claimed she wasn’t eligible, because she was covered by her employer.
The Washington Post discovered that Sebelius was wrong. She could get coverage, but it wouldn’t be as good as the deal as she gets now. After further challenges by other Republicans, Sebelius contended she would “gladly join the exchange” if she didn’t already have her federal plan.
In other words, she can, but she won’t.
With help from Democrats, the Secretary repeatedly extolled the virtues of ObamaCare, noting that even those who are losing their current insurance will be getting a better, more comprehensive product instead. That has been the fallback answer for this administration, even as it has been revealed that more than two million Americans are losing their current healthcare plans, a total more than triple the number signing up for ObamaCare. ”What we’re seeing now is reality coming into play,” said industry expert Larry Levitt, of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Many Americans are unaware that this is occurring because ObamaCare mandates 10 minimum standards, whether Americans need a particular kind of coverage or not.
Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC) drove that point home at the hearing, noting that some single men have to have maternity coverage included in their policy. Sebelius stated that this was necessary because “an insurance policy has a series of benefits whether you use them or not.” Thus, those buying insurance must pay for coverage they will never use, so other people can have coverage. In other words, in addition to taxpayer subsidies included in ObamaCare, those buying insurance are also subsidizing other insurance purchasers.
During the course of the hearing, Sebelius promised the website would be completely operational by November 30, but admitted there are no fallback options for those who have lost their insurance, even if they are unable to sign up for a new policy before their current one runs out.
As far as Sebelius taking responsibility for the current failure of the website, one should remember a similar statement was made by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with regard to Benghazi. Clinton’s acceptance of responsibility amounted to exactly nothing. Since Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced late yesterday afternoon that the “President has complete confidence in Secretary Sebelius,” she is likely to “suffer” the same fate.
Meanwhile, as is always the case with this administration and their media sycophants, the real action on healthcare is occurring largely under the radar. While Americans are having difficulty keeping old policies or buying new ones, Medicaid enrollment–as in enrollment in a single payer government run healthcare program–is exploding. The numbers are stark. In Washington, 87 percent of the more than 35,000 people newly enrolled in the healthcare system signed up for Medicaid. In Kentucky, it was 82 percent of 26,000 new enrollments, and New York, Medicaid accounts for 64 percent of that state’s 37,000 new enrollments. ”Medicaid experts say they’re not sure why they’re seeing the lopsided enrollment numbers, but point out it’s easier to enroll in Medicaid than private insurance,” reports CBS, apparently oblivious to obvious correlation.
What some Americans are not oblivious to is the threat this represents. ”Either the private insurance enrollments come up somewhere around the expected amount or there’s going to be a problem. … You need a volume and you need a mix of people that are healthy as well as high users in private insurance, in order to have it be sustainable,” said Gail Wilensky, a former Medicaid director.
What Americans need to ask themselves is this: is the chaos surrounding the implementation of the healthcare bill, coupled with the explosion of Medicaid enrollments enabled by the same bill, happening by accident or design? “My commitment is to make sure that we’ve got universal health care for all Americans by the end of my first term as President,” said Barack Obama in 2007, at an SEIU union Healthcare Forum. Obama envisioned a 10 to 15 year rollout, and some critics contend the current ineptitude is happening too fast for Americans to swallow a wholesale transition to single-payer government run healthcare.
Yet millions of people losing healthcare coverage, with dim prospects of finding affordable alternatives at this moment in time, could conceivably alter that equation. If there is one thing the massive expansion of the welfare state has proven, it is the reality that a record-breaking number of Americans are willing to be subsidized by their fellow Americans. Furthermore, demonizing private insurance companies that many Americans already hold in contempt, to the point where they would be driven into bankruptcy, is certainly not unimaginable. The president did his part yesterday blaming “bad apple” insurance companies for canceling plans.
Unfortunately for Americans, the demonization may amount to little more than piling on: there is a good possibility the quality of current enrollment is already producing a death spiral in the industry.
The Obama administration has promised to reveal the number of enrollees in the new system the middle of next month. It could be one of the more historic announcements in recent history, as Americans will likely discover just how much of Barack Obama’s promise to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” has been realized. In the meantime, Sebelius and company will ostensibly be trying to “fix” the current system. The fix as they say, may already be in.
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