HHS

HealthCare.gov CEO: This enrollment period is going to be even more complicated

Things are running far from smoothly at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ headquarters.

According to The Hill, HealthCare.gov’s newly appointed CEO admitted concern when talking about the many challenges the agency will have to face once the enrollment period rolls in.

The former head of Connecticut’s state exchange Kevin Counihan believes the shorter sign-up period, among other issues, will certainly add more anxiety to the enrollment process, creating headaches for government officials and distress to consumers.

It’s not enough to know technical flaws have been linked to one of the most disastrous government-run program launches in history. It’s also not enough to know that the failure is undoubtedly associated with the Obama administration’s faulty managerial skills; now, we are faced with yet another uncomfortable reality, government officials never learn the lesson.

While reporting the exchange website has indeed gone under extensive repairs since the last botched attempt to provide a health care plan marketplace for consumers, The Hill also highlighted Counihan’s remarks regarding his HealthCare.gov concerns:

“In some respects, it’s going to be more complicated. Part of me thinks that this year is going to make last year look like the good old days.”

SCOTUS weighs the limits of the First Amendment

The Supreme Court heard the case of Hobby Lobby, et.al. on the HHS mandate that requires most businesses that employ over 50 individuals to provide coverage for 21 forms of birth control. The businesses that are parties to the suit, while they are private for-profit companies, have incorporated or otherwise stated in their mission statements, that their businesses are owned and operated by individuals that include their religious practices in their work.

Due to their religious beliefs, that are freely stated to potential employees before they consent to work for these companies, they object to providing some or all of the contraceptives in the HHS mandate on moral grounds. The government presented the case that since they are not religious organizations per se, they do not have the freedom to run their businesses with religious overtones, at least not when it interferes with governmental mandates.

That is a thumbnail sketch of the case, and in spite of the fact that SCOTUS will not hand down a ruling until June, there are plenty of pundits offering opinions on exactly how that will end up. It’s interesting to attempt to guess what a given Justice will say on this issue, based on the questions presented during the case yesterday, however, it probably isn’t going to serve anyone to do that. Let’s not forget the ruling that the ObamaCare penalties were actually taxes by Chief Justice John Roberts, that got us to this point in the first place.

While it seems that quite a few of the commentators out there seem to think that this will fall in favor of Hobby Lobby, and the other corporations involved, perhaps at this point it would be better to think about “what comes next?” if that isn’t the case.

President Obama thinks he already saved your employer plan

At this point, everyone generally accepts that the President’s purported one-year delay in forcing you to lose your individual health insurance policy (and, more importantly, corralling you into the Obamacare exchange) was political grandstanding amounting to almost no practical benefit.  At last check, 19 states had rejected the so-called “fix.”  For those that have adopted it, congratulations on delaying the inevitable.

The Obama administration has recently tried to reframe the narrative of this fiasco by focusing on the fact that only 5% of Americans purchase an individual health insurance policy.  After all, why concern ourselves over the health plan of 14 or 15 million Americans when their sacrifices will benefit the much grander scope of universal utopia?

Obama could let you keep your plan, but he doesn’t want to

 If I like your plan, you can keep it

Last Thursday morning, President Obama issued his latest proclamation in an attempt to save face on his farcical promise.  Of course, the “relief” came far too late and with far too many restrictions to have any practical, real-world effect.

It’s become instinctive at this point to assume that every policy decision that comes from the Obama administration is a blatant violation of separation of powers.  After all, this is the administration that unilaterally delayed enforcement of Obamacare’s employer mandate in direct violation of the statutory requirements.  Many prominent commentators have immediately jumped back on this bandwagon again in this latest Obamacare edict.

But here’s the real legal low-down: President Obama and his executive agencies (HHS/DOL/IRS) have almost unlimited discretion in determining what is considered a “grandfathered health plan.”

No, Republicans have not shifted on Obamacare

Over the weekend, Capitol Hill was aflutter with news that Republicans in the House and Senate were coming together to finally propose a “fix” to Obamacare. The “Keep Your Health Plan Act,” sponsored by Fred Upton in the House and Ron Johnson in the Senate, would essentially overrule the HHS grandfather rules for what insurance plans can continue to exist after certain dates so that people can keep their current plans no matter what, as the President promised. It would be a fix for the millions of Americans being cancelled by their insurers to comply with the new regulations.

Reporters and pundits saw this as a “shift” in strategy, to finally start working with Democrats to reform the calamitous reform rather than stonewall it. I used to think that helpful collaboration would be the better option, but had a change of heart after the implementation proved so disastrous. So I was horrified when I read the headline suggesting Republicans were coming around. As soon as I decide that stonewalling is the best strategy, the party reverses course. Typical! Then I read the story.

House committee grills Sebelius on Obamacare implementation, website problems

Kathleen Sebelius

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee got their chance to ask embattled Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the disastrous rollout of the federal Obamacare exchange website, Healthcare.gov, and other issues that have arisen in recent days with the law.

“The Energy and Commerce Committee welcomes the President’s point person on healthcare, Secretary Sebelius, as part of our continuing oversight of the healthcare law and we look forward to a thoughtful conversation on a number of issues, including transparency and fairness,” said Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) in his prepared opening remarks.

Watchdog group sues the “most transparent administration in history” for allowing the White House to obstruct document release

President Barack Obama’s White House has interfered with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests over the release of communications with a dozen federal agencies, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday by Cause of Action, a government watchdog organization.

Cause of Action has sued ten cabinet agencies — including the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Health and Human Services — the Internal Revenue Service, and the White House Office of Management and Budget for allowing the White House to influence the FOIA process and delay response to document requests.

“Accountable and transparent government does not involve instructing agencies to send politically sensitive records to the White House for review,” said Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “The bureaucracy has violated the law by stonewalling the public’s access to documents for political reasons.”

“Cause of Action’s own investigation reveals that the White House is actually demanding access from agencies to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and Congressional document requests, as well as the documents subject to those requests, in a manner that may obstruct congressional oversight and violate the spirit of FOIA,” he added.

In case you didn’t already know: Report finds that HealthCare.gov failed because of the Obama administration’s incompetence

The headaches consumers experienced when HealthCare.gov, the federal Obamacare Exchange, launched last year were because of the management failures of the federal agency tasked with implementing the system. And this incompetence cost the federal government millions more than expected. This, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office:

Investigators found that the administration kept changing the contractors’ marching orders for the HealthCare.gov website, creating widespread confusion and adding tens of millions of dollars in costs. Changes were ordered seemingly willy-nilly, including 40 times when government officials did not have the initial authority to incur additional costs.

The report faults the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service for ineffective oversight. Known as CMS, the agency is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and was designated to administer Obama’s health care law.
[…]
Investigators found that the administration kept changing the contractors’ marching orders for the HealthCare.gov website, creating widespread confusion and adding tens of millions of dollars in costs. Changes were ordered seemingly willy-nilly, including 40 times when government officials did not have the initial authority to incur additional costs.

The report faults the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service for ineffective oversight. Known as CMS, the agency is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and was designated to administer Obama’s health care law.

Obamacare train wreck update: Enrollees who automatically re-enroll could be left with an unwelcome surprise next year

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced in June that it would allow consumers to automatically re-enroll in their Obamacare plan for 2015, saying at the time that it would simplify the process for those who were happy with their government-mandated coverage.

Well, as it turns out, that HHS may be setting up millions of Obamacare consumers for a big headache next year:

Automatic renewal was supposed to make the next open-enrollment under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul smooth for consumers.

But unless the administration changes its 2015 approach, “they’re setting people up for large and avoidable premium increases,” said researcher Caroline Pearson, who follows the health law for the market analysis firm Avalere Health.

It could be a new twist on an old public relations headache for the White House: You keep the health plan you like but get billed way more.

Part of this deals with the changes to benchmark plans. As it is right now, the second-lowest cost “silver plan” is the benchmark to which subsidies are tied. Avalere Health recently found that the benchmark silver plan will lose that status in 2015 in six of the nine states it analyzed. The problem is the benchmark plan will change in many areas of the country, meaning that customers will have to pay more to keep their plans.

Obama’s HHS is making it incredibly difficult for reporters to cover the influx of immigrant children

Department of Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made news last week when it denied Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) access to a facility in his district in which immigrant children are being held. The agency bureaucrat in charge of the Ft. Still-based facility told him to schedule an appointment for July 21, three weeks later.

HHS has, apparently, felt the heat. Officials at the facility invited Bridenstine to visit on July 12, which the Oklahoma Republican accepted. However, he indicated that he’ll make unannounced visits as well.

HHS officials also extended a tour invitation to the media for July 10. But there are a number of rules with which reporters have to comply to be given access. Here’s the part of the email reporters received on Monday from an administration official, according to Bridenstine’s office:

The purpose of this 40-minute tour is to show members of the press the interior of the shelter and explain the care we provide while these children remain in our custody. The tour guide will detail what goes on from room to room and the services youth are provided on a daily basis.

In order to protect the safety and privacy of the children, the following rules for participation will be required:


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