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September 22nd, 2014 at 6:49 pm
ObamaCare’s 7.3 Million Enrollments May be False

Last week the Obama administration released its first official headcount of ObamaCare enrollments since applauding itself for 8 million initial sign-ups.

The current enrollment is 7.3 million, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

But there’s reason to be suspicious.

“Under ObamaCare, after a person has paid their first premium, a health plan can’t cancel anyone until they have gone three months without making a payment,” writes health care policy expert Bob Laszewski.

By saying that the 7.3 million number includes all enrollments that have occurred through mid-August, CMS is “effectively double counting by including the ‘adds’ while also keeping the ‘deletes’.” That means the 7.3 figure “also still includes every person who has failed to make a premium payment in June, July, and August – since the carriers can’t yet knock them off the rolls,” explains Laszewski. “The health plans tell me there is a 2% to 4% monthly attrition rate. That means the 7.3 million could be overstated by 6% to 12% of the total.”

Unfortunately, the most transparent administration in history refuses to release the monthly enrollment numbers since ObamaCare went online. That makes it impossible to verify whether the 7.3 million is accurate.

If the Obama administration is so proud of its new number, why not release the data on which it’s based?

September 18th, 2014 at 1:41 pm
Gates: Obama’s ISIS Strategy Is “Unattainable”

Intentionally or not, President Barack Obama’s current strategy for defeating and destroying ISIS is “unattainable,” says his first Defense Secretary, Robert Gates.

“…there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [there won’t be troops on the ground], the president in effect traps himself,” Gates said on CBS This Morning.

“I’m also concerned that the goal has been stated as ‘degrade and destroy’ or ‘degrade and defeat’ ISIS,” because it sets an “unattainable” goal.

Gates is speaking from experience. As Defense Secretary for both Obama and George W. Bush, he saw the United States military inflict “some terrible blows” against al Qaeda – including the killing of Osama bin Laden. But even after 13 years of warfare, al Qaeda hasn’t been destroyed or completely defeated.

Ironically, Gates indicated that the bluster of Joe Biden may come closer to the mark. In a speech earlier this month in New Hampshire, the vice president said that ISIS terrorists should know that the United States “will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice…”

Meting out some measure of justice – be it death on the battlefield or convictions for war crimes – to specific ISIS members is a realistic goal, if ground troops are used.

The confusing aspect about Obama’s current ISIS policy is that it is both too little (no ground forces) and too much (complete destruction). Untethered from reality, it’s a strategy that looks like it is set up to fail.

H/T: Weekly Standard

September 18th, 2014 at 1:10 pm
A “Cover-Up” of Healthcare.gov’s Security Risks?

At least one Obama administration official is complaining of a “cover-up” that seeks to conceal “high-risk” security weaknesses in Healthcare.gov, the federal website where millions of Americans input their private health and financial data.

The explosive allegation came to light when House Oversight Committee investigators uncovered an email from a mid-level official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) saying she is “tired of the cover-ups,” and that she intended to give “a truthful update of exactly what was going on” in a status report she was tasked to write.

CMS is the federal agency responsible for overseeing the development, launch and maintenance of Healthcare.gov.

Investigative reporter Sharyl Atkisson broke the story for The Daily Signal.

The timing is particularly bad for CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner who is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee today.

Previous reporting documented specific instances where CMS officials in charge of the website’s security were either mislead or kept in the dark about the portal’s “limitless” security risks.

This new revelation will only increase the suspicion that the integrity of Americans’ private information takes a backseat to whatever saves face for the Obama administration.

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September 16th, 2014 at 7:03 pm
Top Minnesota ObamaCare Insurer Leaving Exchange

The largest player on Minnesota’s ObamaCare exchange is dropping out, and not even the promise of federal subsidies can get it back.

Earlier today PreferredOne – an insurance company that covered 59 percent of Minnesota’s ObamaCare population – announced that it will not offer health care plans next year paid for with ObamaCare subsidies.

Apparently, the decision is being driven by high administrative costs associated with doing business with MNsure. Even after hiring an additional 50 workers to handle the exchange’s post-launch fixes and tweaks, PreferredOne says continuing to participate is financially unsustainable.

The move makes it likely that MNsure’s ObamaCare rates will jump since PreferredOne sold the lowest cost option. Those rates will be released sometime in October – just weeks before the midterm elections.

September 15th, 2014 at 7:02 pm
Harkin Lashes Hillary to ObamaCare

In what some observers presume is an early sign of a presidential run, over the weekend Hillary Clinton spoke at a high-profile political event for Iowa’s retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Harkin.

Though Clinton had her own gaffe, the biggest surprise was how much credit Harkin heaped on her for passing ObamaCare – even though she wasn’t even in Congress!

“One of the things she always worked on was advancing this concept, this idea that health care should be a right and not a privilege in this country,” said Harkin. “So, Hillary was not there when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, she was of course secretary of state, but I want you all to know that her fingerprints are all over that legislation. It would not have happened without her strenuous advocacy in that committee all those years.”

Any hopes Clinton had of distancing herself from a law that only gets more unpopular is gone. All opponents have to do is show her smiling behind a gushing Harkin to make the connection.

Don’t like ObamaCare? Blame HRC.

No conservative could have said it better.

September 12th, 2014 at 6:57 pm
ISIS or ISIL?

If you’re confused about what to call the newest terrorist threat – ISIS or ISIL – Daniel Pipes, the renowned conservative Middle East expert, has an answer.

Whichever one you want.

The Obama administration prefers “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL), while almost everyone else uses “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS). At first blush, some commentators think they detect a subtle framing effect to blur any possible links between the rise of this group with Obama’s blundering Syria policy.

Pipes isn’t one of them. According to him, “both translations are accurate, both are correct, and both have deficiencies – one refers to a state, the other has an archaic ring.” Pipes should know since he wrote a book about the underlying history that gives rise to the translation difficulty.

Whatever one calls ISIS/ISIL, Pipes rightly focuses on the most important issue: “…ridding the world of this barbaric menace.”

September 12th, 2014 at 1:31 pm
Workers Paying More for Health Insurance under ObamaCare

As ObamaCare’s next open enrollment period draws near, some of the controversial law’s biggest backers are cheering a seven city survey claiming that health insurance premiums associated with it are dropping.

This leads liberal health policy expert Ezra Klein of Vox to say that “Obama’s signature accomplishment is succeeding beyond all reasonable expectation.”

But not if you get your health insurance from your employer, however.

“Employees are on the hook for more and more of their health care costs. Premiums are increasing so slowly in part because employers are continuing to shift toward higher deductibles, requiring employees to pay more out of their own pockets before their health care plans kick in,” explains Sam Baker in National Journal.

Comparing monthly premium rates year-to-year makes sense if that’s the best single indicator of how ObamaCare is impacting paychecks. But it isn’t. For employees working in the real economy the shift to high deductible plans means more out-of-pocket spending every time they visit the doctor.

Translation: ObamaCare makes health insurance for workers more expensive.

When it comes to measuring ObamaCare’s success, we need to make sure we’re looking at the most relevant data. Otherwise, we risk scoring political points at the expense of the truth.

September 10th, 2014 at 7:14 pm
IRS re Lost Emails: Oops, We Did It Again

The Obama administration has a penchant for releasing damaging disclosures on Fridays.

The most recent example was last Friday’s admission by the IRS that – in addition to losing potentially incriminating emails from Lois Lerner’s account – it also can’t find emails from five other employees connected to the conservative targeting scandal.

Two of the five worked in the agency’s Cincinnati office where most of the bad behavior took place. The others include Lerner’s technical adviser, a group manager in the tax-exempt division and a tax law specialist, reports Fox News.

The IRS says all five permanently lost access to emails sought by congressional investigators when their hard drives crashed. The agency’s Inspector General is testing the drives to see if any emails can still be recovered.

Republicans in Congress are not amused.

“The IRS’s ever-changing story is practically impossible to follow at this point, as they modify it each time to accommodate new facts,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said. “This pattern must stop.”

More likely it will continue.

September 9th, 2014 at 7:51 pm
ObamaCare’s Popularity Dropping Ahead of Midterms

“Just 35 percent of voters now support the Affordable Care Act, down 3 percentage points from May, according to a monthly poll by the Kaiser Health Foundation,” reports The Hill.

Moreover, the poll found that 47 percent of respondents feel negatively about the law, otherwise known as ObamaCare.

The RealClearPolitics average of six national polls is even worse: 53.8 percent say they oppose the law, with only 40.3 percent in favor.

Little wonder that the controversial health law is so unpopular. States are continuing to resist Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare’s terms for fear of a Trojan horse spending spree, and consumers are getting shut out of some of the country’s best hospitals.

All this and it is still almost two months until the midterm elections.

President Barack Obama may not be on the ballot this year, but his eponymous health law surely is.

September 3rd, 2014 at 8:08 pm
Wyoming Latest to Consider Medicaid Expansion

In my column this week, I explain how not every Medicaid expansion through ObamaCare is necessarily a bad thing. The crux of my argument is that states that use the extra money to move the program in a more market-friendly direction – and as a consequence, make it more cost-conscious and consumer-driven – should be given a chance to test their ideas.

This means that Republican governors in Indiana, Iowa, Pennsylvania – and now perhaps Wyoming – should be given some space before conservatives conflate them with other GOP leaders who simply expanded Medicaid without bothering to wring any reforms from the Obama administration.

Every state is already in the business of participating in Medicaid. If conservatives are willing to consider Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform a step in the right direction, then we should extend the same courtesy to Republican governors who are trying to do something similar with Medicaid.

At least for now.

September 2nd, 2014 at 7:28 pm
Tennessee Opts Into ObamaCare Medicaid Expansion

Another news cycle, another Republican governor decides to expand Medicaid with ObamaCare dollars.

Last Friday, Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam joined Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Indiana’s Mike Pence and others in trying to carve out a middle ground between a straight yes or no on expansion.

Haslam hasn’t committed himself to specifics, saying only that “sometime this fall” his administration will submit an alternative plan to federal regulators.

States like Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Iowa have won various levels of approval to use ObamaCare’s increased Medicaid funding to provide subsidized health insurance plans to some of the poorest members of their populations.

Expanding Medicaid is a tempting offer because the federal government pays for about half of every dollar spent on the state’s program. ObamaCare makes taking the plunge almost irresistible since it pays for every dollar of expansion until 2017, and 90 percent of all new spending until 2020.  For sitting governors with term limits, that translates into an opportunity to get lots of credit for helping poor people before most of the bill comes due.

The politics of ObamaCare are constantly evolving, and the lesson for conservatives about the law’s Medicaid expansion is this: Unless there is a credible alternative to growing government, many politicians will opt for good press and worry about the policy implications later.

Heading into the 2016 presidential cycle, there needs to be a way to determine which ideas adhere to constitutional principles, preserve the free market and bolster human flourishing – which includes access to health care.

The sooner, the better.

September 1st, 2014 at 6:54 pm
Marco Rubio Evolving on Immigration

If at first you don’t succeed, pivot to the next best alternative.

That seems to be the strategy used by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) as he positions himself for a potential White House run in 2016.

Rubio, once the darling of conservatives and a top GOP presidential contender, quickly fell out of favor with the grassroots when he supported a version of comprehensive immigration reform championed by the Obama administration and some of the most liberal members of Congress.

After the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” bill was pronounced dead-on-arrival in the House of Representatives, Rubio has since modified his position on how to pursue immigration reform. Unsurprisingly, it now aligns with what conservatives have said all along: secure the border first, build trust in the federal government’s commitment to the rule of law and national sovereignty, and only then discuss how to integrate illegal immigrants into American society.

Last week, Rubio sent a letter to President Barack Obama warning against a unilateral executive action that would grant some kind of legal status to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants. In Rubio’s words, such an act “will increase the perception of ambiguity in our laws, incentivize more people to immigrate here illegally, and significantly set back the prospects of real reform.”

It’s too early to tell whether Rubio’s repositioning will be enough to convince conservatives that he’s changed his principles instead of just his tactics. Until he can give a convincing explanation of why next time will be different, skepticism about his true beliefs will remain.

August 29th, 2014 at 6:09 pm
Pennsylvania Governor Says Yes to ObamaCare Medicaid Expansion

After years of rebuffing calls to participate in ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett is changing his mind.

Sort of.

While the announcement comes as a bit of a surprise, it doesn’t appear to be a total loss for fiscal conservatives. (Others may disagree, of course.)

According to the terms of the agreement between Gov. Corbett’s office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Pennsylvania won’t simply be expanding its Medicaid program. Instead, it will use the extra dollars made available under ObamaCare to pay for (i.e. subsidize) private health insurance plans for newly eligible state Medicaid beneficiaries.

The agreement stipulates that Corbett’s alternative is being allowed as a five-year “demonstration project,” meaning that its future is not assured. Much will depend on how the project’s measurements are defined, if the reforms Corbett supports are to survive.

For now, Pennsylvania joins the ranks of Indiana, Arkansas and Iowa as states that are attempting to use ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion to decrease their uninsured population – without, of course, breaking the bank.

It’s hard to see how that will happen, but we now have at least four states offering themselves as very costly social science experiments. It should be interesting to see what the results will show.

August 27th, 2014 at 6:59 pm
IRS Erased Lois Lerner’s Blackberry AFTER Investigation Began

It’s been a rough five days for the Internal Revenue Service.

Last Friday attorneys at Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, said Department of Justice lawyers revealed a second back-up system that stores all government emails.

Presumably, this includes the emails to and from former IRS manager Lois Lerner’s account; emails that are sought by investigators on the House Oversight Committee because of Lerner’s connection to the potentially illegal targeting of conservative advocacy groups.

If true – DOJ officials are disputing Judicial Watch’s account of the conversation – this casts a serious shadow on the IRS’s credibility, since Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress under oath that the emails had been lost in a hard drive crash.

However many back-up systems there are – and whether Koskinen knew the number – the Commissioner has another integrity crisis brewing.

“Thomas Kane, Deputy Assistant Chief Counsel for the IRS, wrote in a declaration, part of a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the IRS, that [Lois Lerner’s] BlackBerry was ‘removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012,” reports Fox News.

The date is significant because congressional staff members had already interviewed Lerner about her role in the targeting operation. Deleting messages from her government-owned smartphone after that meeting – but before preserving the contents– looks like a thinly veiled attempt to destroy evidence.

The House Oversight Committee will have its hands full when Congress returns from its August recess.

Expect to see some high-profile hearings.

August 26th, 2014 at 7:57 pm
DOJ: We Have Lois Lerner’s “Lost” Emails

Apparently, you can lie to Congress but not to Judicial Watch.

The conservative watchdog organization is publicizing an admission by the Department of Justice that government officials can access emails reportedly lost in a hard drive crash.

The messages – correspondence to and from former IRS manager Lois Lerner – have been sought by congressional investigators seeking more information about the agency’s targeting of conservative advocacy groups filing for tax-exempt status.

In sworn testimony, IRS officials have told members of Congress that thousands of emails sent from Lerner’s government account could not be retrieved because a back-up system had also been erased.

But now attorneys at the DOJ are singing a different tune.

“Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Justice Department lawyers informed him that the federal government keeps a back-up copy of every email and record in the event of a government-wide catastrophe,” reports the Washington Examiner.

That includes Lerner’s IRS emails.

But don’t expect them to be produced anytime soon. The DOJ is claiming that the newly revealed back-up system would be “too onerous to search,” but did say that Treasury Department inspectors are looking into it.

While the litigators wrangle, we’re left with yet more evidence that the Obama administration doesn’t mind playing fast and loose with the truth – even under oath.

The House of Representatives already voted back in May to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify; making her the second administration official after Attorney General Eric Holder to receive such a dishonor.

If it’s true that top IRS brass lied under oath to Congress about the whereabouts of Lerner’s potentially damaging emails, one wonders what message House leadership would send to this latest act of executive defiance.

August 25th, 2014 at 7:06 pm
Pro-Amnesty Congressman: ‘Get Ready’ for Obama Executive Order

One of Congress’ biggest amnesty boosters is telling allies to “get ready” for a presidential announcement that could shield as many as 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), an amnesty supporter who called on fellow Hispanics to “sign up to vote and punish those who speak ill and criminalize children who come to our border,” expects to hear very soon that President Barack Obama will issue an executive order to effectively legalize half of the United States’ illegal immigrant population.

“It’s music to my ears that someone would have a source at the White House that say it’s 5 million,” Gutierrez said on MSNBC today. “Let me just say, tomorrow, the next day, and all of this week we’re getting ready.”

By “getting ready,” Gutierrez means preparing to process 5 million quasi-legal residents into semi-permanent status. The problem is, Gutierrez has no idea what those structures will look like – or how they’ll be funded – because Congress has refused to pass any type of immigration reform that includes amnesty or anything like it.

Perhaps President Obama will opt for the complex “Registered Provisional Immigrant” status outlined in the Senate Gang of Eight bill that died in the House of Representatives. After all, Gutierrez and other amnesty supporters have “urged Obama to legalize all of the illegal immigrants that would have qualified under the Senate’s amnesty bill,” reports Breitbart News. If Obama can achieve the same policy goal as Congress, why can’t he do it using the same policy means?

Besides, just because the legislative branch won’t pass a law doesn’t prohibit the executive from doing whatever he wants, right?

Today, Gutierrez may be gleeful at the prospect of Obama violating the Constitution to benefit his pet issue, but he should remember: Once you brush aside the separation-of-powers, there’s no check on tyranny. Tomorrow, you lose.

August 21st, 2014 at 2:38 pm
Avik Roy Updates His ObamaCare Alternative

Credit Avik Roy for being open-minded.

A week after unveiling his ambitious – and controversial – reform of ObamaCare, Roy, a well-respected health policy expert, is incorporating some of the best criticisms as amendments to his plan.

Most of the changes are highly technical, and not worth delving into in a short blog post. For readers interested in specifics, here is the link to Roy’s updates page.

What’s refreshing about Roy’s response to his fellow conservatives is his willingness to defend his ideas, but not to the point of brushing aside legitimate improvements.

As to the biggest concern – that preserving ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges makes it possible that Democrat congressional majorities in the future might use them as a springboard to a single-payer system – Roy replies, “No health-reform plan can singlehandedly prevent Democrats from doing whatever they want if they ever again have 2009-size, filibuster-proof majorities. But if that’s the standard for constructive GOP reform plans, well, let’s just call it a day.”

Roy’s point is well taken, but it highlights a central tension among conservatives whenever federal policymaking is considered – Which is more important: Market efficiency or federalism?

Policy wonks like Roy tend to favor efficiency as a way to lower spending and improve citizen-customer experiences. Constitutionalists like myself tend to favor federalism and the policy diversity that it affords. Of course, different regulatory regimes produce market inefficiencies. However, that just may be the price of freedom.

Roy should be applauded for trying to make his ObamaCare alternative as strong as possible. Time will tell whether conservatives will come to favor an efficient, federally-regulated national market, or continue to favor a system that lets states and their citizens decide what works best for them.

August 21st, 2014 at 1:38 pm
Judge Orders Release of Fast and Furious Documents

Soon the American people may finally get some clarity about the Fast and Furious scandal.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the Department of Justice must provide a list of documents related to the gun-running scheme that it says are protected by executive privilege. The list will be turned over to investigators at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

Disclosing the list will allow House investigators to challenge DOJ’s privilege claim for shielding each document, a case-by-case process that will likely result in at least some transparency into the murky program that enabled Mexican drug cartels to kill a U.S. Border Agent and scores of Mexicans.

H/T: National Review Online

August 21st, 2014 at 1:23 pm
Ninth Circuit: IPAB Challenge Must Wait

Uncharacteristically, a three judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has given constitutional conservatives a reason to smile.

The Ninth Circuit, a bastion of liberalism that gets routinely reversed by the Supreme Court, ruled that a constitutional challenge to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is not yet “ripe” for judicial review. Ripeness is the term judges use to denote when a case has a live issue that a court of law can decide. In the IPAB case, the agency hasn’t yet been created, so any challenges to the harm it might do must wait until they actually occur.

And make no mistake, there is much to fear from a fully functioning IPAB. For example, “IPAB is not dependent upon annual appropriations from Congress, need not follow traditional administrative processes, and is not subject to judicial review. As if that were not enough,” writes Jonathan Adler, “[ObamaCare] provides that Congress may dissolve IPAB only if it follows a specified procedure during a seven-month period in 2017 – a statutory provision even the Obama administration has acknowledged could not hold up in court.”

Each of the characteristics of IPAB cited by Adler above are intentionally designed to separate the agency from legislative, judicial and ultimately public control. This is dangerous because “IPAB is authorized to develop self-executing recommendations for limits on Medicare reimbursement rates and other cost controls should the rate of Medicare spending growth exceed a specified target.” That is, IPAB is empowered to ration care for Medicare beneficiaries without any oversight. If allowed to go into effect, IPAB could very well be the biggest step toward a European-style, centrally controlled nationalized health system.

So, how is a loss today really a win for the future? By dismissing the current challenge to IPAB for lack of ripeness, the Ninth Circuit panel is allowing those opposed to the agency to fight another day. At the trial level where this case began, the district judge was not so kind. He ruled against the challengers on the merits, foreclosing future attacks when IPAB actually gets going.

By allowing the challengers to refile later, the Ninth Circuit – at least for the time being – is leaving the door open to another, perhaps more successful assertion of constitutional principle.

August 20th, 2014 at 12:26 pm
Paul Ryan: Regulations Hurt the Poor

Conservatives typically – and correctly – fault the regulatory state for increasing the cost of doing business and impeding job creation. But what about the argument that businesses don’t pay taxes (or regulatory fees), people do?

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is making a powerful case that the two go together in a way that could reduce the government’s footprint and decrease poverty.

“The regulatory part of Ryan’s anti-poverty plan goes after ‘regressive’ federal rules – those that have an outsize economic impact on low-income households,” reports The Hill. “Supporters of his plan say regulations are ultimately borne by ordinary consumers and households who pay extra when new restrictions are piled on to the products and services they use. The poor end up spending a greater share of their income to cover the added expense.”

The argument that regulations are regressive – that they take a bigger bite out of a poor family’s budget than anyone else’s – is an especially attractive one to liberals such as Cass Sunstein, the former chief of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama White House.

In a recent column, Sunstein said Ryan’s regulatory reforms “point in helpful directions, and they suggest the possibility of bipartisan cooperation on some important questions.” Among these is taking into consideration the human cost of regulations on a segment of society that can least afford it.

To be sure, neither Ryan nor Sunstein advocate eliminating all regulations, and how they would implement such reforms would likely differ substantially. Still, the fact that a well-known, serious conservative and his liberal counterpart see common ground on pulling back government and lifting up the poor is a development worth watching.