ObamaCare Exchange Information Campaign Taps Employers

ObamaCare

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) infamously stated in 2010 that “we have to pass the bill [ObamaCare] so that you can find out what is in it.”  It was a curious comment, one that could have any number of meanings.  Here’s what I understood it to mean: This bill is so damn big, has so many moving parts, and will radically remodel the relationship between the civil society and government to such a degree that there is no way for Americans to conceptualize what life will be like under the ObamaCare utopia until we implement it.

Well, the time is nigh.  And for employers, guess what?  You’re really about to find out what’s in it.  The employer mandate and its associated excise tax penalties are a cornerstone of the fundamental transformation President Obama has so long desired.  In the ObamaCare solar system, everything revolves around the exchanges.  Employer mandate excise taxes, enforced by the same IRS that recently admitted to targeting Tea Party groups, will provide crucial funding for the massive exchange subsidies.

One of the ObamaCare requirements associated with the employer mandate that has been largely under the radar until this week is requirement to provide employees with a notice informing them about the ObamaCare exchanges.  From Section 1512 of PPACA:

PART II—EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITIES

SEC. 1512. EMPLOYER REQUIREMENT TO INFORM EMPLOYEES OF COVERAGE OPTIONS.

SEC. 18B [29 U.S.C. 218b]. NOTICE TO EMPLOYEES.

[A]n employer to which this Act applies, shall provide to each employee … written notice… informing the employee of the existence of an Exchange, including a description of the services provided by such Exchange, and the manner in which the employee may contact the Exchange to request assistance….

The Department of Labor issued its model notice for employers to satisfy this requirement last week, available here.  All employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (which generally applies to employers with at least one employee and at least $500,000 in annual dollar volume of business) must provide this notice of ObamaCare exchanges to all employees by October 1, 2013, just in time for the inaugural ObamaCare exchange open enrollment.

So what exactly does this notice say?  First of all, it’s no longer a notice of the ObamaCare “exchange.”  The administration now refers to these centers of government-driven healthcare as “marketplaces.”  As we learned from HHS earlier this year, the reason for the rebranding is that the word “exchange” doesn’t translate well into Spanish.

More importantly, the core content of the notice is essentially an advertisement for the ObamaCare exchanges.  An advertisement that employers, many of which sponsor group health plans, are required to distribute to their employees.  The notice opens with its core pitch:

What is the Health Insurance Marketplace?

The Marketplace is designed to help you find health insurance that meets your needs and fits your budget. The Marketplace offers “one-stop shopping” to find and compare private health insurance options. You may also be eligible for a new kind of tax credit that lowers your monthly premium right away. Open enrollment for health insurance coverage through the Marketplace begins in October 2013 for coverage starting as early as January 1, 2014.

In other words, your days of employer-sponsored coverage are numbered.  Embrace ObamaCare and its juicy tax credits.  Coming to a “marketplace” near you in 2014.

This model employer notice comes on the heels of Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) expressing his concerns in a budget hearing that the administration needs to improve its public outreach on ObamaCare to avoid a “train wreck.” He stated “that consumers and businesses will just not have enough information. That it will be too confusing.” Farming out that job to employers appears to be part of the administration’s answer.

The other part of the answer appears to be throwing money at it.  There’s something the administration rarely fails at.  Secretary Sebelius announced last week that HHS will be spending $150 million to teach people how to enroll in the ObamaCare exchanges by “investing in health centers for outreach and enrollment assistance.”  This is on top of the $54 million for ObamaCare “navigators” who, as reported by The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, will “maintain expertise in eligibility, enrollment, and program specifications and conduct public education activities to raise awareness about the Exchange” and “provide information in a manner that is culturally and linguistically appropriate to the needs of the population being served by the Exchange.”

But there’s more.  Apparently the $150 million for health centers and $54 million for navigators won’t cut it. As also reported by Wonkblog, HHS Secretary Sebelius is making multiple calls to health industry executives, community organizations, and church groups requesting that they contribute funds for this ObamaCare education campaign.  Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) had some choice words in response:

“To solicit funds from health-care executives to help pay for the implementation of the President’s $2.6 trillion health spending law is absurd,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement. “I will be seeking more information from the Administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law.”

Regardless of whether the requests violate any law, count me as in the camp that finds this creepy.  We already know that political adversaries of the Obama administration have been targeted by the IRS.  Now health industry executives are being asked by HHS to make voluntary donations to ObamaCare?  It opens the door for potential political pressure and favoritism, and it puts everyone on the other side of the line with Secretary Sebelius in an uncomfortable and inappropriate position.  How much more can the administration really expect to squeeze out of the private sector to prop up this unsustainable experiment in government-driven healthcare?


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