Friday, October 08, 2010

Waiving Health Regulations

Our view of the worthiness of ObamaCare is colored by our overarching concern with the grotesque expansion of the federal government into the most intimate areas of our everyday lives-and the expanding number of mandates and government bureaus underscores this fear. The one single government official who symbolizes the expanding health edifice is HHS Secretary Sibelius; since the two thousand page bill leaves a lot up to her bureaucratic imagination and authority.

The Foundry tells the story here: "There are over 1,000 instances in the more than 2,700 page bill where Congress granted the Secretary of HHS new powers to regulate the health care industry. For example, the power to determine what does or does not count as a medical expense alone will decide the fate of many health insurance firms."

And exercise her authority she does-granting waivers from health care mandates to a slew of businesses and unions. As the NY Times reports: "As Obama administration officials put into place the first major wave of changes under the health care legislation, they have tried to defuse stiffening resistance — from companies like McDonald’s and some insurers — by granting dozens of waivers to maintain even minimal coverage far below the new law’s standards."

So, since the original bill left so much to be determined through regulations, a huge degree of power was given to Sebelius-and as a result, much of the bill's scope is a function of the ad hoc decisions of the HHS secretary. This, of course, opens up the entire regulatory process to ominous politicization-as the waiver granted to the teacher's union exemplifies. The NY Post points this out: "The United Federation of Teachers -- one of President Obama's key political backers -- is the biggest beneficiary of a White House sweetheart deal that will exempt certain outfits from complying with new health-care rules, officials revealed yesterday. The quietly approved federal waivers for 30 companies, health insurers, unions and other groups across the country means the UFT doesn't have to gradually phase out caps on annual health coverage like everyone else."

But what else the waivers underscore, is how the original bill was laden with unintended consequences-impacts that have led to the kind of private sector uncertainty that is contributing to the current stalled economic growth. But one thing we can be sure of, there will be no waivers for the unconnected little guys; and if small business is the country's economic engine, than ObamaCare is the little engine that couldn't.

Hot Air lays out the issue clearly: "Instead of enforcing the ballyhooed standards and mandates for insurers that Congress passed in ObamaCare, Kathleen Sebelius and the White House blinked in the face of bad press and exempted dozens of companies from the law.  If the marketplace had uncertainty before, the administration has made the situation much, much worse..."

So the statement from the president in the run up to the health bill's passage that, if you liked your current coverage you could keep it, is subject to the following caveat: only if the secretary of HHS allows you: "Discretion may be the better part of valor, but it’s not something businesses can rely on for planning purposes. Corporations are already hunkered down because of (take your pick) weak demand, hurt feelings as a result of presidential persecution, or uncertainty over future health-care costs and tax rates. It won’t help business confidence to learn the HHS secretary can make and break rules on a case-by-case basis."

There is a reason why ObamaCare is so wildly unpopular, but unpopularity aside, the real problem is that the law is a danger to our liberties as well as a drag on our entire economy-and a major reason why Democrats are likely to take a blood bath in 25 days. We'll give Hot Air the last word: "First, let’s point out that the law turned out to be unworkable, almost before it even got started.  Dictating percentages for administration costs in insurance plans isn’t the job of the federal government anyway, but more to the point, that issue is obviously not determinative in value to the consumer — as these waivers proved.  This shows what happens when people with no experience in an industry decide that they can construct it better than the market has structured itself."