Paul Ryan’s Path To Adversity: His Budget Plan Could Spell Disaster For The U.S. Economy

Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the think tank has been tracking the latest, anticipated budget burdens caused by the proposed “Ryan Budget.” Specifically, Mr. Stone argues, if passed, the Ryan budget would adversely affect “tens of millions already struggling Americans, further translating into discernible harm for the U.S. economy in general.”

This reflects Ryan’s efforts to balance the federal budget over a 10 year time frame. The potential cuts include: a $2.1 trillion reduction in healthcare coverage expansions with Medicaid and SNAP grants reduced by $0.9 trillion, and Medicare be slashed by $0.1 trillion.

Read more at U.S. News and World Report.com/Opinion

What Scott Brown Won’t Talk About While He’s Attacking Obamacare

Scott Brown (Part 2). The Think Progress website recounts how Brown rode the Tea Party wave to the U.S. Senate in January of 2010. At that time, he promised to become the “41st vote to block Obamacare.” Yet, soon after attaining his Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat, he admitted depending on one of the ACA’s provisions, “to keep his elder daughter on his congressional health insurance plan.” Brown argued in May, 2010, that keeping his daughter on his healthcare plan, “is not inconsistent with his criticism of the federal law”. . . “because the same coverage could be required by individual states.” As a state senator, Brown voted for the state’s 2006 healthcare reform law, which established the pattern for the Affordable Care Act. It also extended dependent coverage.

In neighboring New Hampshire, Brown’s anti-Obamacare stance is not picking up much support. An estimated 22,000 have signed up for health insurance through the new law.

Read more at ThinkProgress.org

Many ‘Obamacare’ Critics Accepted Its Subsidies

According to an article in SF Gate, the website sister of the San Francisco Chronicle, several corporations have reaped millions of dollars from Obamacare, concurrent with their backing of GOP candidates who vow the law’s doom. The “condemn-while-benefitting strategy” angers Democrats, who see some of their top congressional candidates struggling against waves of anti-Obamacare ads which are partly funded by these companies.

Among those businesses is a leading Democratic nemesis, Koch Industries, the diversified entity run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. They and some conservative allies continue spending millions to hammer Democratic senators in North Carolina, Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, and elsewhere. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid renewed his criticisms of the Kochs this week: “It’s OK for Koch Industries to save money through Obamacare, even as Koch-related groups seek the law’s repeal.”

When passed in 2010, the ACA designated $5 billion for the temporary reinsurance program. The goal of it was to subsidize employer costs for workers who retire prior to their becoming Medicare eligible. As a result, hundreds of employers, largely corporations, applied. Others applying included municipalities and public colleges. Virtually all of the monies involved were soon distributed.

Factual-based analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics does not include 2014’s purported heavy “political spending.” Many weighty political players are not required to report donations. Thus the Koch-funded group, for example, Americans for Prosperity, is among these “Super-PACS,” maintaining secrecy on finance details as it controls the airwaves. Such control is ever-present in states like North Carolina – a state with competitive Senate Races.

Read more at SF Gate.com

Medicare Doctor Payments Released Today – Wall Street Predicts MA Rate Decline – Treasury Defends ACA Rules

More insight from Politico’s Brett Norman: Medicare payments revealed in April for the first time by the Obama administration discloses tens of billions of dollars paid to physicians. It is   an imposing revelation casting a broad, bright light on some of the top billing doctors around the U.S. Norman adds, “Physician groups have long resisted such a specific accounting of individual providers’ pay, and they continue to warn that the raw payment information  –lacking the right context – could ruin the careers of quality docs.”

Yet the omnibus release brings what the federal health officials tout as a measure of transparency to a disreputable system. Academics and media outlets are anticipated to immediately begin dissecting the information attempting to identify potential causes of waste or fraud. Such disclosure is welcomed by researchers, consumer advocates, businesses and non-profits seeking to increase access to details they contend are needed to improve healthcare. Yet, the AMA (American Medical Association) opposes the “data dump.” In a statement issued early on April 9, the AMA said releasing the information absent “context” will “likely lead to inaccuracies, misinterpretation, false conclusions and other unintended consequences.” “Thoughtful observers concluded long ago that payments or costs were not the only metric to evaluate medical care,” says AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven.

According to Politico, the non-profit research Altarum Institute says national health spending increased by 6.7 percent in over a year. A portion of such growth is due to the newly insured under the healthcare law. Much of the acceleration in growth occurred in 2013, before the new coverage kicked in. By January, 2014, the healthcare spending share of the GDP reached a record of 17.7 percent.

Read more at Politico.com/Politico Pulse

Study Finds Sicklier Enrollees In Earliest Stage Of Health Law

The New York Times’ Katie Thomas sheds more detail on the recently released Express Scripts study. Multiple observers question whether the new marketplaces (or healthcare exchanges) will attract an appreciable amount of the sick; a scenario possibly leading to higher premiums, even eventually destroying the new law.

Express Scripts, suggests that early enrollees face far more serious health problems and are older than those covered by employers. The study also shows higher utilization of specialty drugs, often used to treat diseases like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. The use of such drugs possibly alludes to even more costly medical problems. The article cites Carl E. Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, expressing worries over high out-of-pocket costs connected with a significant number of marketplace plans. The Express Scripts study found that consumers with such plans paid a larger percentage of drug costs in the first two months of 2014, in comparison with those in employer plans.

Overall, early users of the marketplace plans seemed to be filling prescriptions for drugs at rates similar to people with coverage through their employers. Another pharmacy-benefit manager, Prime Therapeutics, said it was seeing slightly higher rates of prescription-drug use among its marketplace customers. Others with their eye on ACA ramifications have cautioned that it’s too early to properly evaluate the health of those who are signing up. The Express Scripts overview looked at a sample of 650,000 consumers receiving coverage in January and February. It did not capture information about those signing up closer to the enrollment deadline. Insurers have said those who enrolled later tended to be younger and were presumably healthier.

A spokeswoman for Regence, a Blue Cross/Blue Shield provider serving the Oregon and Utah areas, told the New York Times the company’s new plans covered a broader array of drugs, also combining medical and drug costs under a single deductible. This allows some customers to meet their limits earlier. She also said that policyholders might be required to contribute toward drug costs if a less expensive medication was available that treated the same condition.

Read more at The New York Times.com

Kathleen Sebelius Resigns As Health Secretary; What It Means For Obamacare

Does the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius as head of HHS signify the end of a tumultuous phase of the Obamacare debut? A recent report in the Christian Science Monitor says President Obama will attempt to nudge budget director, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, towards accepting the nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  The CSM story by Linda Feldman also outlines how repeatedly Sebelius faced varying criticism for the misfortune-plagued web-based healthcare system.

While accepting responsibility for perceived ACA failings of HHS, the Obama administration, at one point, mulled scrapping the Healthcare.gov website. Moreover, Sebelius seemed surprised by Obamacare roll-out issues. Even beyond preliminary website malfunctions, Obamacare remains controversial.  Anyone thinking Sebelius’ resignation will even mildly quiet Obamacare opposition, may want to consider a position rethink. Republicans will continue to cry ‘Obamacare’ as Democrats battle to hang on to a Senate majority. The CSM article quotes David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, who recently told Reuters that Sebelius’ resignation “is just going to embolden Republicans.”

The departure of Sebelius will put Burwell (the new nominee), as well as the Affordable Healthcare Act, squarely back in the hot seat. While a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, she has only served as budget director since April, 2013. If Burwell is confirmed, she will still have her political work cut out for her. Healthcare.gov is arguably functioning, but the website is due to go through extensive upgrades in preparation for the next enrollment period, beginning November 15. Additionally, insurers will be setting rates for next year.

Republicans are steadfastly entrenched in their respective positions that the ACA should be both defunded and scrapped. Ironically, Democrats could now also pose a challenge for Burwell, as they face uphill re-elections.

Read more at the Christian Science Monitor.com

Republicans To Use Burwell HHS Hearings To Question Affordable Healthcare Act

Greg Giroux writes in the industry-related Insurance Journal about the politically charged healthcare atmosphere of 2014.  Republican legislators on Capitol Hill see the nomination process of Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell as the new HHS Secretary, as an opportunity to ask renewed ACA questions. Conservatives are seeking information on how many enrollees have paid for their plans, the age make-up of enrollees, and how that steers insurers in policy pricing for next year. Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, claimed Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” that she was not edged out as HHS Secretary.

Yet, the politics involved in finding a new HHS Secretary who will largely be shepherding Obamacare through its next phase cannot be denied, especially in light of comments from Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, saying Burwell’s confirmation hearings will be used to: “figure out first and foremost who actually has benefitted from the success of Obamacare and its rollout.”

Sen. Scott’s comments were heard Sunday on Fox News Sunday. “There’s no doubt that she was a good choice for OMB,  that does not necessarily make her a good choice for HHS.”

Read more at Insurance Journal.com

Someone Should Ask Burwell About IPAB And The Road To Serfdom

Forbes blogger Michael F. Cannon discusses new powers HHS nominee Sylvia Matthews Burwell might find or – are outright granted to her – upon confirmation as the new HHS Secretary. The Affordable Care Act’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) currently has de facto administrative, if not legislative, powers which can both increase taxation and parcel out medical care. Of more stark and critical significance, if you don’t like what the IPAB has done, or can do — too bad. While at the outset congressionally created, it’s Congress who has impeded judicial examination of IPAB rulings. This enforcement scenario applies whether or not one is enrolled in Medicare. You can’t even sue IPAB. Congress has also foreclosed future congresses from repealing the IPAB, that is until a very narrow window to do so emerges in 2017.

Cannon adds: “Then again, until Congress repeals IPAB, there is always the chance that some fool will try to exploit those unconstitutional measures. It makes sense for the Senate to determine whether Sylvia Mathews Burwell is such a fool.”

Read more at Forbes.com

GOP Steps In An Absolutism Trap Again: Why It’s Sabotaging Itself On Obamacare

Simon Maloy, in a Salon.com article, wonders if Republicans have been hemmed in by their allies. In 2012 America was rapidly heading toward the “fiscal cliff.” The scenario was comprised of a mix of spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to automatically take effect unless Congress and the White House moved quickly to legislate a way out.

The George W. Bush tax cuts were about to expire and President Obama wanted to leave intact tax reductions for those making $250,000 or under annually. While the White House and Senate negotiated, if not argued, John Boehner offered up his own plan, one which would increase taxes on millionaires (solely). At the time, Obama threatened a veto, yet such objections quickly became meaningless because Republicans would not agree to any kind of a tax increase. The only option left was the plan’s failure, followed by Boehner recessing the House. When the tax compromise did pass – Republicans voted against it by 2 to 1.

Also, according to Salon’s Maloy, if you dig into the Kaiser poll deep enough you will see only 29 percent of the populace supports a full repeal of Obamacare.

Read more at Salon.com

Census Survey Rewritten to Make Obamacare Look Better

An article by New York Times veteran Robert Pear outlines latest U.S. Census Bureau efforts to comprehensively alter its annual survey, making it arduous work to determine the real effects of President Obama’s healthcare law – in the next report – which is due out sometime during the fall of 2014. While the changes are intended to improve the poll’s accuracy, the revamped questions are quite different, so much so that the findings will not be comparable. The White is continually searching for the sort of proof showing the benefits of the health law. The Affordable Care Act promises to be an issue in many of this year’s midterm elections. HHS and the White House Council of Economic Advisors requested many of the re-written questions, and it was the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who approved the new questionnaire. The decision to basically restructure the survey was pushed by technical specialists at the Census Bureau, and also members of Congress.

The questionnaire employed by the Census Bureau allegedly provides an over-estimate of the un-insured, and may be subject to margins of error according to statisticians and demographers in a working paper released by the department.

Read more at The New York Times.com