Posts Tagged ‘GOP’

GOP Proposes Putting Seniors on Congressional Healthcare Plan

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

In a highly controversial move, Republicans critical of Medicare have proposed opening up the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) to Medicare patients.  “We are going to offer a plan that would give all senior citizens in the country the same congressional healthcare plan that we have,” said Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).  “We are not willing to wait until after the next election to fix the entitlements.”

The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) warned that the plan could shake the federal program, while asking seniors to pay more for healthcare.  “This is a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone kind of proposal that would both bring down Medicare as we know it and threaten the stability of the FEHBP,” Joseph A. Beaudoin, NARFE president, said.  Beaudoin said seniors should examine the proposal closely, because it throws open the doors of a stable healthcare program to millions of seniors currently enrolled in Medicare.  “Given the current environment of budget attacks on federal employees, retirees and Medicare, the federal workforce and all Americans should be wary of plans like the one proposed today,” he said.

Called the Congressional Health Care for Seniors Act (CHCSA), the plan’s supporters claim that it would save taxpayers $1 trillion in the first 10 years as well as provide enhanced healthcare benefits, choice, quality and outcomes by moving seniors into the FEHBP.

How would it work?  Federal employees can now choose from approximately 250 plans participating in FEHBP, including 20 nationwide plans.  The large selection provides access to better doctors, better quality healthcare, and the ability to pick plans that best suit the person’s individual needs.  The rationale also is that because Congress uses the plan, it must be the best in the country.  Additionally, the legislation would set up a “high risk pool” for the costliest patients within the FEHBP.  The federal government will directly reimburse healthcare plans for enrolling the most expensive five percent of patients, which keeps premiums low while allowing high-risk patients to get the same quality healthcare as every other enrollee – federal employees and seniors alike.  If the legislation is passed, seniors could enroll in FEHBP starting in 2014.

There is some bipartisan support for this proposal.  In 2004, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) proposed allowing uninsured people, not seniors, to enroll in FEHBP.  “Entitlements are broken,” said Paul.  “It’s not Republicans’ fault; it’s not Democrats fault.  I tell people, ‘It’s your grandparents’ fault for having too many kids and then your fault for not having enough kids.’  It’s a demographic problem.”

Paul said the plan “means-tests the benefits and gradually allows the age of eligibility to go up.”  Currently, Medicare eligibility age is 65; Paul’s plan would gradually increase it to 70 by 2034.  “There is means-testing in this — and the reason you have to do that is: we’re spending more on Medicare than is coming in.”  According to Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), “What I would tell the person near retirement is don’t fear change, embrace it, because you’ll have more doctors available to treat you and your family.  “Think about not just what happens to you…think about where we’ll be as a nation if something doesn’t change pretty quickly with these big programs.”

Virtually everyone in Washington agrees that the federal government must control its deficits and rising debt by finding a way to reduce entitlement spending.  President Bill Clinton’s former budget director, Leon Panetta, now defense secretary, who reproached the Senate Budget Committee: “You can’t meet the challenge that you’re facing in this country” by only cutting discretionary spending, which is less than a third of all spending.  “If you’re not dealing with the two-thirds that is entitlement spending, if you’re not dealing with revenues, and you keep going back to the same place, frankly you’re not going to make it, and you’re going to hurt this country’s security.”

Paul acknowledges that adding seniors to the federal program would drive costs up for its current 8.5 million enrollees by approximately 24 percent.  “Federal employees are the one group of people who may have a legitimate argument with the Congressional Health Care Plan for Seniors,” according to Paul’s synopsis.  “Asking them to share their healthcare with the elderly will cause their premiums to increase.”  Not surprisingly, as soon as the legislation was announced, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association expressed concerns that the bill would destabilize the federal workers’ program.

Beaudoin notes that “As for the senators’ notion that America’s seniors should be in the same healthcare system as America’s elected officials, they seem to have forgotten that starting in 2014, members of Congress will no longer be covered by the FEHBP but will be in state-based healthcare exchanges.”

Mitt Romney Says “No” to Medicare on His 65th Birthday

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Even though he just celebrated his 65th birthday, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney isn’t signing up for Medicare or Social Security.  According to an aide, Romney plans to keep his private health insurance plan although there is no word on whether he accessed that plan through a former employer or bought it on the individual market.  Ironically, if elected, Romney wants to offer senior citizens the choice of enrolling in the traditional program or purchasing private insurance with some financial help from the government.

Romney’s decision puts him in a tiny minority. The vast majority of seniors participate in Medicare.  Nearly all seniors are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A, which covers hospital care, although they can opt not to use it.  Another 95 percent enroll in Medicare Part B, which covers physician services, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“It was personally meaningful in me to be enrolling in the program I ran.  It made me feel one step closer to the beneficiaries,” Dr. Donald Berwick, who left his post at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) at the end of 2011, said.  “It validated what I had thought — which was that it was remarkably easy [to sign up].  Any president, at any age, should be committed to these important programs,” Berwick said.

By contrast, two of Romney’s competitors — Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — are already 65, the age at which most Americans become eligible to enroll in Medicare’s coverage of hospital treatment, physician visits and other medical care, including prescription drugs.  Gingrich has a Medicare Advantage plan, administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, according to his campaign.  Medicare Advantage plans are run by private insurance companies, who receive a fixed monthly payment from the federal government.  Gingrich frequently plugs Medicare Advantage and wants to expand the proportion of seniors who enroll in it from the current 25 percent.  Congressman Paul has a federal government-sponsored Blue Cross Blue Shield employee health insurance plan.  He has said that he would not change any aspect of Medicare for current beneficiaries but would let younger people opt out of the program and use medical savings accounts or other ways to pay their own healthcare costs.

According to NPR’s Julie Rovner, “Romney is clearly making a political point.  Wealthy people like him ought to pay more for their Medicare benefits (if they get them at all) and that perhaps 65 is a little young to qualify, too.  ‘Wealthier seniors will receive less support,’ under the changes Romney has proposed for Medicare, according to his website. http://www.mittromney.com/issues/medicare At the same time, he is proposing to ‘gradually raise the retirement age to reflect increases in longevity.’  But could his political point cost him more down the road if he changes his mind?  Maybe.  Medicare charges penalties for those who wait to sign up.  It’s the program’s way of ensuring that people don’t wait until they get sick to enroll.”

Beneficiaries currently have a seven-month window to sign up for Medicare: three months before their birth month, the month of their birthday, and three months after their birthday.  That means that Romney has through June to enroll if he changes his mind.  The majority of adults use the Social Security Administration website to enroll for their benefits, while others go to local district offices.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Ethan Rome, Executive Director of Health Care for America Now, says that “I’m not sure what Romney’s trying to prove, but what his action says is clear: I’m not like the Americans who enroll in Medicare.  I’m special.  I’m rich.  I’m better than you.  Ask yourself: If Romney doesn’t need or want Medicare for himself, will he protect it for the rest of us who do?  Of course not.  Instead, he’ll continue to support the Republican plan to eliminate Medicare as we know it.  He’ll work to turn Medicare into a voucher program that will saddle seniors with thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket health care costs.  Because, after all, what senior can’t afford to spend an extra $6,400 a year on doctors and hospitals?  Before Medicare, seniors were left at the mercy of the private market and therefore virtually uninsurable.  Without insurance, even brief hospital stays could impoverish them.  The result was that the elderly went without the care they needed — unless their families were rich.  Most seniors were one illness away from bankruptcy.”

Medicare Likely Safe From GOP Budget Cutters

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

America’s senior citizens can breathe a sigh of relief.  Even as the majority Republicans in the House of Representatives wield a surgeon’s scalpel to slash spending from the federal budget, they are unlikely to succeed at making significant changes to the extremely popular Medicare program. The Democratic-controlled Senate rejected serious cuts in the proposed legislation, which also included an attempt to block implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Congressional Democrats and the Obama Administration pointed out that the Republican budget measure’s block on implementation funding would endanger short-term funding for Medicare.

The legislation would create “significant disruptions in services” to Medicare recipients, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to Senator Max Baucus (D-MT).  The payment delays, Sebelius wrote, would halt the need to undertake a lengthy process to issue new regulations governing Medicare Advantage payment rates since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) put in place its own set of payment rate rules.  The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis questioned that claim because it believes that the Republican bill will reduce spending by $1.6 billion through the rest of 2011.  Democrats maintain that the CBO’s review of Medicare spending is a separate issue from HHS’s lawful authority to fund the program.

Despite the Senate Democrats’ united front, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is “ready to take on health programs” as legislators on both sides of the aisle struggle with long-term spending concerns.  Lawmakers continue talks regarding the current year spending measure still under consideration.  A new continuing resolution that would fund government operations until April 8 has emerged.  Though it includes deeper spending cuts, it is free of controversial riders such as language to restrict ACA implementation funds.  Meanwhile, the CBO issued a report that legislation designed to further the defunding goal would add $5.7 billion to the deficit.

Democratic leaders insisted that some form of compromise by the House GOP members is now needed. “We’re looking for some give on the Republican side,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), he said, “needs something to bring his freshmen into the real world.”  Boehner, referencing the Democrats and the White House, said “I hope the talks are going to continue, but we are not going to get very far if they don’t get serious about doing what the American people expect of us.  “This is not going to be easy.  Our goal, as I’ve said many times, is to cut spending and keep the government open.”

Obama Calls the States’ Bluff on Healthcare Law Implementation

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

President Barack Obama is calling the states’ bluff on implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) by allowing them to opt out of its most onerous requirements three years earlier than currently permitted. Speaking at a meeting of the National Governors Association, Obama specifically pointed to a proposal from Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Scott Brown (R-MA) which he endorsed as a flexible approach.  “If you can come up with a better system for your state to provide coverage of the same quality and affordability as the Affordable Care Act, you can take that route instead,” Obama said, noting that, “If your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does, without increasing the deficit, you can implement that plan and we’ll work with you to do it.”

The president endorsed the proposal to allow states to apply for “innovation waivers” beginning in 2014, three years earlier than originally scheduled. Under the terms of these waivers, states would be exempt from several of the law’s requirements if they set up their own method of adequately expanding coverage.  The “individual mandate” is the focus of multiple state lawsuits by states that contend it is unconstitutional.

The Obama administration has posted a detailed fact sheet on the proposal on the White House website. Additionally, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has blogged about it.

Despite lingering opposition to the healthcare reform law, the Obama administration is moving ahead with its implementation.  Over the last 10 months, HHS has made $2.8 billion available to states to help them start reforming their healthcare systems.  These funds let the states invest in improvements.  These investments are showing signs of progress thanks to more comprehensive oversight of insurance premium increases, new rights and protections for consumers, additional choices for people living with medical conditions, and the elimination of some of the worst insurance industry practices.

The bipartisan proposal’s future is uncertain, with both Democrats and Republicans casting wary eyes at it. Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House majority leader, said the healthcare law is “an impediment to job growth” and that he is still committed to repealing the ACA.  “I was disappointed,” said Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and chairman of the Republican Governors Association.  “Pretty much all he did was to reset the clock on what many of us consider a ticking time bomb that is absolutely going to crash our state budgets.  The states need more than that.”  Even some Democrats are cautious because they believe that it is impossible to expand healthcare coverage and reduce the deficit without the federal mandate.  Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) said “We want to give states as much flexibility as possible, but that flexibility shouldn’t fail to ensure that Americans in every state have access to quality, affordable healthcare.”

Writing in the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen asks “So, how big a deal is this?  It marks a fairly significant departure from the administration’s status quo, but at its root, what we’re seeing is the White House call Republicans’ bluff.  The GOP is convinced it can offer comparable coverage at comparable prices using Republican-friendly policies.  Today, in effect, the president said, ‘Be my guest.’  Why?  Because Obama knows it’ll take more than tort reform and HSAs to make the system work, and he sees a political upside to watching GOP officials scramble to actually craft their own plans, rather than bash his.”

President Obama also made it clear that the federal government is moving forward with healthcare reform. “I am not open to refighting the battles of the past two years or undoing the progress that we have made, but I am willing to work with anyone, governors or members of Congress, to make this law better…and fix what needs fixing,” Obama said.

New Illinois Congressman Is Declining Government Healthcare

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

One of Illinois’ newest Congressman – Republican and Tea Party favorite Joe Walsh, who represents the 8th district that consists of Chicago’s far northwest suburbs – has refused to accept the government-sponsored health insurance plan that typically covers lawmakers.  “I don’t think congressmen should get pensions or cushy healthcare plans,” he said.  Walsh’s wife is not thrilled with her husband’s decision; because she has a pre-existing medical condition, she is now forced to hunt for a pricey individual policy.   So far, Representatives Bobby Schilling (R-IL) and Mike Kelly (R-PA) have joined Walsh in turning down congressional healthcare coverage.

Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) called the Republicans’ bluff, writing a letter to GOP leaders asking that they refuse their federally subsidized coverage.  “If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable care, your members should walk that walk.”  Crowley sent his letter to incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Walsh’s stated legislative goals are repealing President Obama’s healthcare legislation and making major changes to Social Security and Medicare.  Additionally, Walsh believes that reducing the size, scope and power of government is an end in itself.  “An end in itself,” he said.  “I think we were sent to D.C. to cut spending and grow the economy. We have to talk about cutting real programs” – as well as agencies — “like the Department of Energy and Department of Education.”

Lie of the Year: Reform Equals a Government Takeover of Healthcare

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

The most egregious lie of the year, according to PolitiFact.com, is the suggestion that President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform law is a “government takeover of healthcare.” This is the opinion of PolitiFact.com,  the St. Petersburg Times’ independent fact-checking website.  In early 2009, Republican strategist Frank Luntz urged GOP legislators to call the bill a “government takeover.”  According to Luntz, “Takeovers are like coups.  They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.”  PolitiFact’s runner-up lie was Representative Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) statement that President Obama’s trip to India would cost taxpayer $200 million a day.

Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said “The label ‘government takeover’ has no basis in reality, but instead reflects a political dynamic where conservatives label any increase in government authority in healthcare as a ‘takeover’.”  Although the new law increases government oversight of health insurance companies, it relies on private companies and the free market.

Others are in agreement with PolitiFact’s stance.  The online magazine Slate said “the proposed healthcare reform does not take over the system in any sense.”  Princeton University professor Uwe Reinhardt, a healthcare economics expert, wrote in the New York Times that “Yes, there would be a substantial government-mandated reorganization of this relatively small corner of the private health insurance market (that serves people who have been buying individual policies).  But that hardly constitutes a government takeover of American healthcare.”

When a spokesman for incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) was asked about Republicans’ insistence on using the phrase – even now that it’s been thoroughly debunked – the response was “We believe that the job-killing ObamaCare law will result in a government takeover of healthcare.  That’s why we have pledged to repeal it, and replace it with common-sense reforms that actually lower costs.”

Is the GOP Alone In Wanting to Repeal Healthcare Reform?

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Even though Republicans will control the House of Representatives and have a larger presence in the Senate come January, they still are likely to hit some formidable roadblocks in their attempt to repeal the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. Those roadblocks are such lobbying giants as the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PRMA).  The groups are on board with the new healthcare reform law because they will gain an estimated 30 million (or more) new paying customers in the next few years.  The reform law is expected to increase payments to physicians and hospitals who have felt squeezed in recent years.  Additionally, analysts believe the new law is a major force for job creation in the healthcare sector.

“These guys were onboard for a reason,” said David Dranove, a professor of health enterprise management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.  “Very few employers will drop private health insurance, and you will expand private insurance to 15 million people.  If this legislation stands, we are not likely to see new reforms for a generation.”

Primary-care physicians, who are likely to benefit significantly from the healthcare reform law, will see their reimbursements from government insurance programs rise – although many believe the reform law is only the beginning.  According to Dr. Cecil Wilson, AMA president, “While the 111th Congress made important improvements to our nation’s healthcare system, more work needs to be done.”  Hospitals – which have been hard hit by patients unable to pay their medical bills because of unemployment – will be in better financial shape once more Americans get health insurance subsidies in 2014.

Pharmaceutical companies, which were among reform’s earliest supporters, oppose repeal, even though analysts say it will cost them $100 billion in government rebates.  The upside is that the industry will obtain new customers who were previously uninsured and unable to afford the latest brand-name medications.  Even the much-maligned insurance companies – who will have more than 15 million new customers – oppose repeal.

GOP Vows to Repeal the Affordable Care Act

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Newly empowered GOP sets its sights on rolling back healthcare reformNow that the GOP has retaken control of the House of Representatives, one of their overarching goals – according to Speaker-of-the-House-to-be John Boehner (R-OH) – is to repeal the landmark Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act that would provide healthcare coverage for millions of Americans who now have no insurance.

In Boehner’s own words, “The American people are concerned about the government takeover of healthcare,” he said.  “I think it is important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity and replace it with common-sense reforms that will bring down the cost of healthcare insurance in America.”  “Republicans will roll back whatever they can on healthcare,” noted Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director.

Yet, there’s no hard evidence that the Republicans want to replace the current law with their own version of healthcare reform.  The GOP vision would give states the power to fund programs that extend coverage to some uninsured Americans.  People would also be allowed to carry insurance policies across state lines.  Mandates and government-run insurance pool would be non-existent.  Additionally, Republican legislation would cap court malpractice awards and help people direct more pretax money into healthcare savings accounts.  The Republican plan is anticipated to cut deficits by $68 billion over a decade.  On the downside, it would cover only about three million of the uninsured, leaving 52 million Americans with no healthcare coverage, according to Douglas Elmendorf, who is currently the Congressional Budget Office director.

There’s a significant roadblock in the way of the Republicans’ healthcare plan:  the presidential veto, which can be overturned only by a 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress.  “It would be a symbolic vote – a vote of intention rather than reality,” said Joseph Antos of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

Complicating the situation is the fact that some aspects of healthcare reform already in effect are quite popular, such as the provisions forcing insurers to cover children with pre-existing conditions and allowing parents to keep kids up to age 26 on their policies.

Republicans “A Pledge to America” Vows to Repeal the Affordable Care Act

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

House Republicans want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.Republicans are threatening to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as part of their “A Pledge to America” proposal.  On the six-month anniversary of healthcare reform’s enactment, House Republicans issued their “Pledge” , which proposes overturning the law and replacing it with “real reforms” focusing on medical liability reforms to control “junk lawsuits” and defensive medicine.  Other elements of the “Pledge” would expand health saving accounts; ban taxpayer funding of abortion; allow people to buy insurance across state lines; assure access for patients with pre-existing conditions by expanding state high-risk pools and reinsurance programs; as well as cutting the cost of coverage.

According to Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president for special projects, “The (Republicans’) agenda claims to protect people with pre-existing conditions, but it repeals the new law’s ban on discriminating against uninsured Americans, including children who have a pre-existing condition.  It will mean that seniors will pay more for their prescription drugs, and their new free preventive Medicare benefits will be cut.”

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, noted that the GOP proposal “will raise taxes by more than $40 billion on up to four million small businesses that provide health benefits to their employees…and will result in premium increases by eliminating the billions of dollars in cost-saving measures.”

Democratic lawmakers assailed the “Pledge” as recycled ideas that will only intensify the nation’s problems.  “Republicans want to return to the same failed economic policies that hurt millions of Americans and threatened our economy,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).  Even if Republicans vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama still has the power to veto their legislation.  It’s likely that he would use his veto power to protect one of his major legislative achievements.

Boehner Continues to Bad-Mouth Healthcare Reform

Monday, May 24th, 2010

John Boehner knocks Kathleen Sebelius letter on the virtue of healthcare reform legislation.  Although healthcare reform legislation is now the law of the land, Representative John Boehner (R-OH), the House Minority Leader, is still not shy about communicating his distaste for the bill. Recently, Boehner sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, citing increased cost estimates, job-loss information and what he perceives as a lack of follow-through on an executive order regarding abortion coverage that the GOP finds troubling.

Boehner’s letter is a response to a recent statement by Secretary Sebelius, which stressed the law’s initial deliverables, including health insurance reform and tax credits available to small businesses.  “Now I’ve seen my fair share of propaganda, but this letter must have been written in an alternate universe,” Boehner said.  Republicans have uniformly opposed the healthcare bill throughout the process; the majority claim that it will increase costs.  Additionally, the GOP hopes that the healthcare law will guarantee them a majority victory over Democrats in November’s mid-term elections.  The GOP is expected to win more mid-term elections in the House versus the Senate.

Sebelius said that “Now, I want to be clear: the Affordable Care Act is not a magic pill that will cure all the problems in our health care system.  It will take time for all the benefits to kick in.  And if you look at the history of major social legislation, you see that there are always revisions and adjustments along the way.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sides with Sebelius, saying “We’re very pleased with the unfolding of the healthcare bill,  In a bigger sense, it is about a healthier America.”