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“A Hollow Bromide”: Don’t Believe The Hype; Republicans Still Don’t Have A Health Care Plan

With the Supreme Court considering a case that could unravel the Affordable Care Act, leaving some 8.2 million Americans suddenly uninsured and sending premiums skyrocketing, the Republican Party has a comforting message for voters: We have a solution.

“As Supreme Court Weighs Health Law, GOP Plans to Replace It,” blares the headline in Friday’s New York Times. In the article, reporter Jonathan Weisman asserts that “the search for a replacement by Republican lawmakers is finally gaining momentum.”

A legislative scramble is underway. On Monday, Representatives Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Fred Upton of Michigan and John Kline of Minnesota, the chairmen of the powerful committees that control health policy, proposed what they called an “off ramp” from the Obama health act that would let states opt out of the law’s central requirements.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, all Republicans, offered their own plan this week to provide temporary assistance to those who would lose their subsidies and new freedom to all states to redesign their health care marketplaces without the strictures and mandates of the health care law.

So are Republicans really ready to finally advance a health care reform bill of their own?

Probably not.

While the House and Senate groups both laid out broad visions for new health care laws, neither offered any sort of details on how their plans would actually work. Saying that “we would provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period,” as the Senate Republicans promise, sounds great. But until they explain how much financial assistance they would provide, or how long the transitional period would last, it is a hollow bromide. Similarly, the House Republicans’ plan to form “a working group to propose a way out for the affected states if the court rules against the administration” sounds great — but Americans still have no idea what, exactly, the way out would be.

Of course, it’s possible that Congress will fill in the details in the coming weeks. But it’s incredibly unlikely. After all, Republicans have literally been promising a detailed alternative to the Affordable Care Act for six years, and so far it’s not much closer to reality than it was in 2009. Why should this time be any different?

Even if Republicans did coalesce around a health care plan of their own, it’s almost impossible to imagine a significant reform passing both the House and Senate. The GOP already has deep divisions on health care policy, and they are likely to intensify as the 2016 elections draw nearer. Republicans who face tough re-election fights will be loath to vote on a controversial measure with such high political stakes (a side effect of the GOP’s all-out war against President Obama’s health care policy).

Put simply: If the Republican Congress could barely come together to avoid a self-inflicted shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, there is no reason to believe that they could pass a massive reform bill on the most radioactive issue in politics.

Republicans have plenty of good reasons to pretend that they have a solution to the disaster that would ensue if the Supreme Court guts the Affordable Care Act. But until they prove otherwise, the latest batch of Republican Obamacare replacements should be viewed as no more likely to become law than their countless predecessors. And if the Supreme Court does rule against the Obama administration in King v. Burwell, no help will be on the way for the Americans who would lose their insurance.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 6, 2015

March 8, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Converting A Phony Scandal Into Political Cash”: How Much Money Can Republicans Raise Off Benghazi? Ask Darrell Issa

House Republicans’ newly created Benghazi Select Committee has attracted attention to their penchant for using investigations of the Obama administration as a fundraising tool. Most of the criticism, thus far, has concerned the National Republican Campaign Committee’s effort to collect email addresses from those who want to “become a Benghazi watchdog” despite committee chairman Trey Gowdy’s plea that they not do so.

It is no surprise, though, that the NRCC would use Benghazi to the Republican Party’s financial advantage. To understand just how lucrative these scandals can be, look no further than Rep. Darrell Issa. He has offered Republicans a clinic in the science of converting phony scandal into political cash.

For most of his career, Issa was a lackluster fundraiser. But through the first five quarters of the 2014 election cycle, his campaign committee has raised $2,573,258. This is an impressive haul, considering he has not faced significant opposition in more than a decade. The two Democrats vying to challenge him this year together have raised less than $50,000 combined. If Issa’s fundraising continues at its current pace, he will raise more this cycle than in his first four terms in Congress combined.

To understand Issa’s success, you need to see how he has stealthily used his official position as chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee to build one of the most successful and impressive direct mail operations in the House of Representatives. As chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Issa is outraising colleagues who occupy traditionally more lucrative posts including Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarlin and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, whose committee is known as one of the easiest perches in Congress to attract campaign contributions from the fossil fuel and healthcare industries.

From his post as chairman, Issa has incessantly beat the drum of Benghazi and other scandals. According to a search of Nexis, the terms “Issa” and “Benghazi” have appeared together in Fox News segments 221 times since September 11, 2012. On Sean Hannity’s show a year ago he proclaimed, “The administration has made a claim that for classified reasons they change the story. We believe right now that may be the biggest lie of all.” Encouraged by Hannity, Issa then stated, “Lying to Congress is a crime,” stoking the conservative fantasy of a lawless White House.

Issa’s campaign website does not contain the standard political pictures of constituents and community events. Instead it contains a panoply of press clippings primarily focused on the Congressman’s investigations of the White House and attacks on Obamacare.  Currently the top two stories on DarrellIssa.com announce the subpoena of Secretary of State John Kerry and an article from Breitbart.com by his former aide and current consultant Kurt Bardella headlined “They Knew and They Lied About Benghazi.” (Breitbart.com notes that Bardella is a “former” aide to Issa but does not disclose that his company Endeavor Strategic Communications was on his campaign committee’s payroll as of his latest FEC filing.)

As a reward, the Republican grassroots have padded Issa’s coffers: The key ingredient to his miraculous fundraising turnaround has not been high-dollar gifts from PACs and lobbyists, but ordinary Republican voters thanking him, through their contributions, for being the president’s number one antagonist. Issa has nurtured this relationship with the GOP base by cultivating an enormous direct-marketing operation. Four of his top six campaign expenditures so far this year were to direct mail firms and his third largest expense was $70,684 paid to the Post Office.

Issa’s FEC reports further demonstrate the success of the program. In the first quarter of 2014, nearly 56 percent of his contributors listed their occupation as “retired”an indicator, often, of a small donor reached through direct mailing. Previously, from the 2006 through 2010 cycle, the pharmaceutical industry was the largest source of donors to his campaigns. This change occurred only after Issa took over the Oversight Committee in 2011.

These donors are not simply responding to the letter they receive in the mail, but the image Issa has cultivated in the media. They see the congressman on Fox News portrayed as the leader in Congress investigating the scandals they feel have come to exemplify this White House and respond with open checkbooks.

Robert Spuhler, a retired community college president from Colorado, who gave $500 to Issa in 2013, explained to USA Today, “I contributed not so much because of him, but what the committee is working on. When you do things like that, you’re going to be targeted by the other party.”

A second donor, George Brandon, who also listed his occupation as retired on FEC forms, told the paper, “I want to see him survive and get to the truth on Benghazi, and I want to see the IRS destroyed.”

Pacific Political, a California firm contracted by Issa, brags on its website that it “has managed the growth of numerous direct mail campaigns, including that of Congressman Darrell Issa, whose house file… has grown from 2,600 donors to 26,000 donors.”

The front page of Pacific Political’s website features a sample direct mail piece whose visible text focuses on the purported attempts by “White House staff” to use “tax dollars to try and smear” Issa as a result of the scandals he is investigating.

Ultimately Issa’s small-dollar fundraising creates an incentive for him to make the wildest accusations possible and to continue investigations after their shelf lives have expired. The longer these inquisitions last, the more questions remain up in the air, the more time the media spend covering the alleged scandal, the more TV time Issa receives on Fox and the more money flows into his campaign coffers.

Accordingly after investigations by the Accountability Review Board, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republicans have not given up investigating Benghazi. If the hearings end and the coverage diminishes, the money will stop rolling in.

 

By: Ari Rabin-Havt, The New Republic, May 11, 2014

May 13, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Darrell Issa | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Knowingly Deceiving The Public”: Obamacare Truthers Get Caught In A Lie On Delinquency Rate

First, the Obamacare Truthers—the Republicans and conservatives who insist that every piece of remotely positive news about the health-care law’s impact has to be a filthy lie—lost the battle of the enrollment figures. The issue here isn’t whether the Obama administration is telling the complete truth when it says 8 million. The issue is that the Truthers predicted 3 million, 2 million, 1 million, 0 million, a death spiral. And whether the administration is gilding the lily and the real number is 8 or 7.7 or 7.4 million, the hard fact is the Truthers were just crazy wrong.

Having lost that battle, they’ve now opened fire on a second front. Maybe the enrollment numbers are wrong, maybe they’re right, the Truthers say, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the percentage of people who actually pay their premiums.

There is some truth (as opposed to Truth) to this. People can sign up with every intention of paying and then get hit with something—an unexpected car-repair bill—and they can’t pay. Or more likely, they’re young and healthy, and they decide “What was I thinking, I got all caught up in Zach Galifianakis fever?”—and they don’t pay. And if the young and healthy (who cost the insurance companies nothing) don’t pay, then the only people in the system are the old and sick, who cost the insurance companies a lot, and premiums skyrocket.

So in some ways the “percentage paying” number is even more important than the raw enrollment number. It is, after all, the real enrollment number, the number of people actually getting and keeping health coverage. And so the second the Truthers lost the enrollment fight, they moved to the percentage battle. This will prove that Obamacare can’t work.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee put out a report looking at enrollment (“report” is overdoing it; it’s one page). It was methodologically pretty simple. They collected data from every insurer participating in what’s called the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) and looked at who’d signed up for coverage and who’d paid a first premium by April 15. The House panel’s answer was 67 percent.

Now, 67 percent doesn’t sound half bad to me, but the GOP spun it as yet another Obamacare disaster—it would push the “real enrollment” number down near 5 million and mean that one in three people who’d signed up for health-care coverage was already delinquent. They didn’t quite say that, but it was obviously the whole point of the report. “Tired of receiving incomplete pictures of enrollment in the health-care law, we went right to the source and found that the administration’s recent declarations of success may be unfounded,” said committee chairman Fred Upton of Michigan.

The committee got what it wanted: Headlines saying only 67 percent of ACA enrollees were paying. I’m sure there was ample coverage on Fox News, and it blasted out across the talk-radio waves. They have a talking point now, and a number, and it’s low enough that they can spin it as a lousy number.

The only problem is it’s a wrong number.

The Democratic minority on the committee released a memorandum slicing the majority’s logic to pieces in a matter of three paragraphs. Actually, it can be done in one sentence: Lots of enrollees’ first premiums weren’t even due by April 15!

Here’s a little language from the Democratic memo that lays it out a bit more fully: “As of April 15, premiums had only come due for individuals who had signed up for coverage before March 15. Five million individuals had enrolled in coverage through the marketplaces as of March 17.  On April 17, the president announced that 8 million Americans had signed up for coverage through the marketplaces. That means that more than 3 million enrollees—or nearly 40 percent of all enrollees—did not have premiums due by April 15 and therefore were not required to have paid them by that point.”

In other words, people who didn’t even have premiums due yet, and who account for 37.5 percent of all enrollees, are counted in this GOP report as part of the delinquent third.

If you don’t want to take it from Democrats, take it from the insurance officials themselves. They dispute the GOP numbers. Karen Ignani of AHIP, a large group of providers, said the pay-up rate so far in her realm has been 85 percent. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield group says 80 to 85 percent of enrollees have been paying. And WellPoint announced, on the very day of the GOP report, that its figure was 90 percent.

In addition, Talking Points Memo’s Dylan Scott got hold of the questionnaire the committee sent to insurers, and it’s a joke. One industry source—not a Democratic operative—told Scott: “Everyone who saw it knew exactly what the goal was.”

I asked the GOP staff at the committee if they had a counter to the argument that their numbers were incomplete and in essence rigged. On background, one staffer there basically told me that they didn’t have a counter. The committee press release makes it clear, I was told, that these data represent payments only through April 15, and the committee will seek another report May 20.

In other words, this staffer is saying: Yep. Which makes it rather hard to avoid the conclusion that the committee knowingly put out a bad number. Why would a committee of the House of Representatives do something like that? Well, what am I saying? We know why.

The continuing truth about Obamacare is that it’s going pretty darn well so far. The other truth is that the Obamacare Truthers will forever be among us, saying, ah, but it’s the next step that’s crucial, and that’s where the death spiral will begin! That’s our Republican Party: Hoping that millions and millions of people don’t get health coverage, just to deny the president a political win. They don’t care how many people die, as long as they take Obamacare with them.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 2, 2014

May 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obamacare’s Critical Moment”: It’s Time For Nervous Democrats To Have A Gut Check

At times like this, with the Obama administration weathering yet another controversy regarding the stumbling beginnings of the Affordable Care Act, it’s useful to remind ourselves that this too shall pass. I’ve been plenty critical of how Healthcare.gov has been handled (see here, or here, or here), but eventually it will get fixed, at least to the point at which it works well enough. Likewise, the fears now being experienced by people with individual insurance policies will, by and large, turn out to be unfounded. There will be some who have to pay more than they’ve been paying, but in almost all cases they’ll be getting more too.

But there’s no doubt that this is an escalating problem for the administration. The person who got sold a cheap insurance policy on the individual market because the insurer was confident that either a) they probably wouldn’t get sick any time soon, or b) the policy was so stingy (whether the customer knew it or not) that the insurer wouldn’t have to pay anything even if they did, has now become the victim whom all agree must be made whole. We’re all talking endlessly about Obama’s “If you like your current plan, you can keep it” pledge, but the fact is that if you have one of these junk insurance plans, you only like it if you haven’t had to use it. But no matter—the people on these plans (and not, say, people who are finally getting Medicaid, because they’re poor so who cares) are now the only people that matter. Congress is obsessed with them, the news media is obsessed with them, and Something Must Be Done.

The administration is clearly spooked, and so are Democrats. But everyone needs to take a breath and ask themselves whether what they do in the next couple of weeks is something they’ll be able to live with in a year or five years or twenty years.

No one should be under the illusion that the Republican proposals to “fix” the problem of people on the individual market who want to keep their current plan—one of which could be voted on today in the House—are anything other than an effort to cripple the ACA. Not only would they allow insurers to continue selling junk policies, they would also allow the insurers to deny people coverage because of pre-existing conditions. In other words, the Republicans propose to restore the abysmal status quo ante that led to passage of the ACA in the first place. They’d also have the likely effect of jacking up premiums in the exchange marketplace by allowing the insurers to cherry-pick healthy young people for the now still-legal junk policies, leaving older and sicker people to migrate to the exchanges, where premiums will almost surely skyrocket a year from now once the damage becomes clear. As Igor Volsky puts it, “On the eve of implementing hard fought reforms, lawmakers are essentially considering re-segregating the health care market: healthy uninsured individuals without an offer of employer-sponsored coverage, Medicare or Medicaid will be lured away into subprime policies that include few consumer protections (and probably won’t be there for them should they fall ill); sicker people will find themselves in exchanges that resemble high-risk insurance pools, paying ever-more for coverage.” Any Democrat who votes for something like that should be ashamed of themselves.

There’s a Democratic proposal from Mary Landrieu that’s almost as bad. Meanwhile, House Democrats are threatening the White House that they’ll sign on with the Republican plan if the White House doesn’t come up with some other solution that will allow them to cover their asses. But there may be no way to let people who have junk insurance keep it without undermining the law as a whole. As Ezra Klein says, “Solving a political problem now at the case of worsening a policy problem 10 months from now isn’t a good trade.” And that’s putting it way too mildly. They could easily try to solve a political problem now and give themselves a much worse political problem ten months from now by making it impossible for the law to succeed. If that happens, the fact that they signed on to the measure that all but destroyed the law isn’t going to save them with the voters. Obamacare’s fate is every Democrat’s fate, whether they like it or not.

You can say that Obama made his bed by repeating that “If you like your insurance, you can keep it,” and now he has to sleep in it. I’d have two responses to that. First, plans that were in effect when the ACA passed in 2010 fall under a grandfather clause, so strictly speaking, if you liked the plan you had when the law was passed and you still have it, you can keep it, even if it doesn’t meet the new requirements. But since the individual market is volatile (people move in and out of it frequently) and only plans that haven’t been altered since then fall under the grandfather clause, that’s a small number of people.

But much more importantly, we shouldn’t make a terrible policy choice just because it’s the one that we think would line up most precisely with a rhetorical pledge Barack Obama made three years ago. Yes, he should have said, “If you like your plan you can keep it, so long as it’s a plan that gives real coverage and doesn’t leave you vulnerable to bankruptcy if you get sick or have an accident.” But he didn’t. And today, we should make the policy choice that does the most good for the most people.

It would be nice if you could make an enormous policy change without leaving a single American worse off. But that was never possible. There are millions who are going to benefit from the ACA—people who had no insurance who will now be able to get it for free or for a modest cost, people with pre-existing conditions who couldn’t get coverage but now can, and yes, people who thought they were covered but weren’t and now will be, even if they have to pay a little more. Screwing huge numbers of them over for the sake of a small number of people who have been sold a bill of goods by their insurance company and want to keep their junk plans would be unconscionable.

As Josh Marshall says, it’s time for nervous Democrats to have a gut check. Republicans are positively slobbering at the opportunity they think they have to destroy the ACA. After all that’s happened—after a generation of waiting for health reform, after all the effort it took to pass it, after the Supreme Court case and the election and everything else—are there Democrats who want to find themselves telling their grandchildren, “Well, I helped the Republicans subvert the ACA and deprive millions of Americans of health security, because I was afraid somebody might run an ad against me in my next election”?

My confidence that your average member of Congress in either party fully understands the policy implications of what they might be voting for hovers somewhere near zero. But they need to get up to speed, and then find their moral centers. This is among the most critical moments in the already long and tortured history of this law. They’d better not screw it up.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 14, 2013

November 15, 2013 Posted by | Democrats, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Here We Go Again”: Democrats Need To Stop Freaking Out About Obamacare And Take Charge

The dawn of the 24-7 news cycle about 15 or so years ago brought with it a few new ways for the media to talk about and cover politics. With all that air time to fill, politics, and certain big news events like your major murders, became part soap opera. Soap operas, to keep the ratings steady, need running themes. What used to be called “Democrats in disarray,” known today in our hurried-up age as #demsindisarray, proved to be a compelling and durable one.

It developed, in part, because that dawn of cable happened to be the era of Clinton “scandals,” real and (mostly) imagined. Remember Craig Livingstone? If you don’t, Google him. If you do, you’re chuckling already, I know, because for about four days there on cable TV in 1996, Livingstone was supposed to be the ruination of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Democrats in disarray!

Yes, Republicans have been in disarray, too, from time to time—the low points of the Iraq War, Katrina, and just last month during the government shutdown. But for a variety of reasons, the 24-7 news cycle era has found Dems in disarray to be a far more potent story line than Republicans in disarray. It’s alliterative, for starters. And it has been, I readily concede, legitimately true at times. Plus, Fox, for many years, drove the agenda that the other cable nets swallowed hook, line, and sinker. MSNBC has been a liberal pushback channel only for five years or so, or less than half the life span of the 24-7 cycle. (Remember when Tucker Carlson was an MSNBC host?) And Republicans have tended to have tougher game faces, march more in lockstep, and not concede those crucial rhetorical inches that Democrats so often feel compelled to grant.

Of course, we are at one of these moments now. Bill Clinton conceded those rhetorical inches to the right on Obamacare, which Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) seized on immediately. At least two blue-state senators, Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Jeff Merkley (OR), have jumped on the “fix Obamacare” bandwagon. A week ago, Majority Leader Harry Reid was not going to allow any changes to the Affordable Care Act reach the floor of his Senate. Now he’s probably going to have to.

Undeniably, a lot of the damage is self-inflicted, and I’ve said that already more than once. It’s a pretty good time for President Obama to crack the whip. Why he evidently didn’t earlier is still mystifying. Or maybe it’s not. He just isn’t a kick-ass-and-take-names kind of guy. But the success of his presidency may be on the line here in the next few weeks, so it’s not the worst idea for him to become one.

At the same time, there’s no need for panic. Even with the continued existence and success of Fox, reality is still reality, and in the end, reality usually trumps cable and hyperventilating reports about who won the morning in Politico. And reality says the enrollment period doesn’t end until next spring, and it’s really not possible to tell how things are going until enrollment has ended and we see both the number of people who’ve enrolled and what percentage healthy vs. sick, because insurers made their guesstimates and pegged their rates to those guesstimates. Reality also says a legislative fix to address the problems faced by those buying insurance on the private market might not be so bad. A bill that allows—doesn’t order, but allows—insurers to keep offering existing policies for one more year while also restricting that offer only to existing customers wouldn’t necessarily blow a big hole in the precepts of the act. I’m not sure why Republicans would agree to it, but the first part of my equation comes from Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)’s bill, so who knows.

Democrats—especially Obama, but all Democrats—have to take charge of the situation right now. In danger of losing the country’s trust, they must say in essence: “All right, we did screw up Round 1. We’re going to admit it, and we’re going to apologize, and we’re going to fix it, and we’re not going to bullshit you. But we’re also not going to panic. We’re going to make this thing work.”

If they do all those things, they will still come out looking a hell of a lot better than the radical obstructionists. Obama’s approval rating may be down to 40 percent, but that’s four times the Republican Congress’s rating. He can step in and take more control of the agenda here, and he and the Democrats can be seen as the ones sincerely trying to fix these problems, while the Republicans will inevitably be seen as wanting only to kill yet another law and throw yet another wrench into the engine. They will be led once again by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the man who has enticed his party to go down several rat holes already these past couple of years. He is now sitting up on his throne warning that hackers are about to steal applicants’ Social Security numbers, a charge that rings with all the veracity of his earlier accusation that the administration knowingly targeted conservative nonprofit groups.

The current situation is serious. But I remember a lot of other times when it was supposedly curtains for Obama, too, because inside the Beltway, the more disciplined Republicans, who after all are in the luxurious position of just sitting back and firing away, have an easier time winning news cycles. But out beyond the Beltway, the party that shut down the government for three weeks and killed immigration reform and wants to decimate food stamps and can’t even pass its own spending bills doesn’t look very appealing to most people. The fate of Obamacare can be changed. The DNA of the GOP cannot.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 14, 2013

November 15, 2013 Posted by | Democrats, Media, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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