Sunday, November 3, 2013

When the computer system running your signature legislative achievement is slightly less functional than painting on a cave wall, you know you have a big problem. When that’s actually the good news, you know you have a really big problem.

Obamacare’s computer glitches have reduced the president’s eponymic health-care plan to fodder for late-night TV comedians. But in some ways the president is fortunate that the computer fiasco is obscuring the even bigger and more consequential problems facing the law.

For example, there’s the problem with keeping your current insurance. Despite presidential promises to the contrary — promises that, according to NBC News, the president knew were untrue — millions of Americans are finding out that, even if they like the plans they have now, they are being kicked off because those plans do not meet the requirements of Obamacare.
“The software problems of Healthcare.gov obscure much bigger structural disasters.”
Florida Blue, for example, is canceling nearly 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people — about half of its individual business in the state. Highmark in Pittsburgh is dropping about 20 percent of its individual-market customers, while Independence Blue Cross, the major insurer in Philadelphia, is dropping about 45 percent. That makes for more than 500,000 people losing their insurance policies in just three states.

In fact, roughly half of the 14 million people who buy insurance on the individual market are likely to lose their current insurance, according to Gerry Kominski, director of UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research. And while most will be shifted to other policies, those new policies are likely to be more expensive.

Meanwhile, in the group market, we are seeing companies begin to drop insurance for their workers.

Roughly 160,000 workers at Walgreens are losing their coverage. So are some 20,000 part-time workers at Home Depot, and roughly 15,000 spouses of workers at UPS. Some estimates suggest that as many as 35 million workers could lose their current employer plan. Many will be forced into the exchanges, where insurance will cost them more. (Always assuming, of course, that they can find a way to actually purchase those plans.)

Being forced to change plans means that many Americans will not be able to keep their current doctors. Insurance plans available on the exchanges — and in most states the selection of available plans is extremely limited — have been rapidly dropping doctors and hospitals from their networks.

According to a survey by the Medical Group Management Association, nearly 40 percent of doctors are uncertain about whether they will be included in networks of plans being sold through the exchanges. And a new study by PricewaterhouseCoopers warns that “insurers passed over major medical centers” in their California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee networks, among others.

In Illinois, Blue Cross and Blue Shield said that at least some of its plans will no longer include Rush University Medical Center or Northwestern Memorial Hospital in their networks. In California, most insurers won’t include UCLA Medical Center, and none will include Cedars Sinai. Vanderbilt Hospital is being excluded from many plans in Tennessee. In New Hampshire, WellPoint, the only insurer participating in the exchange, covers just 14 of the state’s 26 hospitals, and has dropped about a third of the physicians who used to be part of its network.

The network downsizing is not confined to the exchanges either. In Connecticut, for example, Obamacare has forced United Healthcare to drop thousands of doctors from its Medicare Advantage plan. United also has dropped 10 to 15 percent of the physicians in its New Jersey Medicare network.

Costs are also a problem. As the Los Angeles Times reported this past weekend, millions of middle-class Americans are encountering Obamacare sticker shock. According to the Times, in California middle-income consumers face an estimated 30 percent rate increase, on average, even after receiving subsidies.

Elsewhere the premium increases could be even higher. Comparisons of exchange premiums with those found prior to October 1 show that premiums are higher now in at least 45 states, in some cases as much as 256 percent higher. As predicted, the young and healthy are seeing the biggest increases.

And many experts warn that we won’t know the real extent of Obamacare premium increases until next year.

All these problems would remain even if Obamacare signups ran smoothly. And those signups are encountering their own problems, even aside from computer glitches. For example, the evidence suggests that the vast majority of those enrolling so far are simply people being passed off into Medicaid, with few signing up for private insurance.

In Washington state, of the roughly 35,000 who have “enrolled,” 31,000 are in Medicaid. Similarly, in Kentucky, fewer than 5,000 of the 25,000 total Obamacare “enrollees” signed up for private insurance. In Maryland, 96 percent of enrollees were Medicaid eligible.

This, combined with early evidence that those who purchase private insurance through an exchange are older and sicker than expected, suggests the possibility that adverse selection may be much worse than predicted. If so, the entire premise of Obamacare — the young and healthy overpaying to subsidize the old and sick — would be undermined.

So here’s what Obamacare’s first month has shown: You may not be able to keep your current insurance plan; you may not be able to keep your current doctor; you are probably going to have to pay more; and the entire program could come crashing down in an adverse-selection death spiral.

It may not be long before Obamacare supporters look back longingly to the days when the health-care law was just a bad joke.


Lawsuits that Could Make the Decrepit HealthCare.Gov Look Like a Hiccup
Michael F. Cannon / Townhall Columnist

Last week, I discussed the importance of generating additional legal challenges to the IRS’s attempt to tax, borrow, and spend $700 billion, under the rubric of ObamaCare, yet contrary to the clear language of the statute and Congress’ intent. Four lawsuits have already been filed to challenge those illegal taxes and spending. The plaintiffs include two attorneys general, more than a dozen school districts, three private employers and eight individual taxpayers. A ruling for any of these plaintiffs would make the problems with ObamaCare’s decrepit HealthCare.gov web site look like a hiccup.

Last week, there was activity in one of those cases, Halbig v. Sebelius. Tomorrow, there will be hearing on another, King v. Sebelius.

Background

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act directs states to establish health insurance “exchanges,” directs the federal government to establish Exchanges in states that do not, and offers subsidies to certain taxpayers who enroll in qualified health plans “through an Exchange established by the State.” (The subsidies are technically tax credits, though they are tax reduction in name only.)

The mere availability of those subsidies triggers penalties against individuals under the law’s individual mandate, while the issuance of such subsidies triggers penalties against employers under its employer mandate. In a final rule purporting to implement the law’s tax-credit rules, the IRS announced it would issue subsidies in all states, even the 34 states that do not have “an Exchange established by the State.”
“Legal challenges to the IRS’s attempt to tax, borrow, and spend $700 billion, under the rubric of ObamaCare.”
Jonathan Adler and I explained the problems with that rule in our law-journal article, “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA.” This Cato Institute study offers a layman’s version of the arguments.

In Halbig v. Sebelius, three private employers and four individual taxpayers have challenged that IRS rule in a federal court in Washington, DC. All seven plaintiffs are located in states that have opted not to establish an Exchange. They allege the IRS’s decision to offer unauthorized subsidies in their states will subject them to financial penalties that Congress did not authorize and force them to take costly steps to avoid those penalties.

Notes on Halbig Oral Arguments

Last Monday, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman heard oral arguments on the government’s motion to dismiss Halbig, and the plaintiff’s request that the court issue a preliminary injunction against the IRS rule. Here are a few items of interest from my notes.
  • The Obama administration once again reversed its position on whether the individual mandate is a tax. You may recall that President Obama has done so a number of times. In 2009, Obama told George Stephanopolous, “I absolutely reject that notion” that the mandate is a tax. In 2010, his solicitor general argued before the Supreme Court that the mandate is a legitimate use of the taxing power. After the Court upheld the mandate on that basis, the administration went back to insisting the mandate is not a tax. In court last week, the government’s attorney, Joel L. McElvain, said, “There is no such thing as an individual mandate. It’s a tax.”
  • McElvain claimed the plaintiffs could not bring this challenge because they were not within the “zone of interests” protected or regulated by the PPACA. Freidman responded, “I have written in my notes, ‘This is a silly argument.’”
  • Referring obliquely to HeatlhCare.gov, McElvain quipped, “As the court is aware, there are limitations on what the government can do over the past couple of weeks.”
  • Like many defenders of the IRS, McElvain argued that Section 1563’s definition of “Exchange” means that an Exchange established by the federal government under Section 1321 is, legally speaking, also established under Section 1311. Friedman responded, “they’re still not established by the state.”
  • McElvain advanced a new argument designed to get around that tiny problem. When Section 1311 of the PPACA says each state “shall” create an Exchange, he argued, Congress is creating a “legal fiction” that each state has established an Exchange. If a state does not establish an Exchange, “the premise stands” that it has. Therefore, when the federal government establishes an Exchange, it is, fictionally but legally, “an Exchange established by the State.” There are at least two problems with this new theory. First, a legal fiction is when Congress asks the executive and the courts to treat a fiction as though it were true. For example, Section 1304(d) provides, “In this title, the term ‘State’ means each of the 50 States and the District of Columbia.” Likewise, Section 1323(a) provides, “A territory that elects…to establish an Exchange…shall be treated as a State[.]” The District of Columbia and U.S. territories are not states, but Congress directs the executive to pretend they are. For a legal fiction to exist, however, Congress must specify exactly what untrue thing it is asking the executive to believe. The executive can’t just go around believing whatever untrue things it wants. There is no language in the PPACA creating a legal fiction that the federal government is a state. Sections 1304 and 1323 show that Congress knew how to create such a fiction if that was its intent. Second, this legal-fiction theory contradicts another of the government’s arguments. McElvain, like other defenders of the IRS, argued that when Congress explicitly required both Section 1311 and Section 1321 Exchanges to report information relevant to tax-credit eligibility, it was signaling its intent to authorize tax credits through both types of Exchange. Setting aside the problems with that claim, the fact that Congress mentioned Section 1321 Exchanges separately in this information-reporting requirement undercuts the government’s legal-fiction theory, and any theory that claims Congress intended for state-established and federal Exchanges to be fully equivalent. If it was Congress’ intent that state-established and federal Exchanges would be fully equivalent, why did Congress mention the two types of Exchanges separately here? The fact that Congress did mention them separately supports the plaintiffs’ argument that Congress did not intend for them to be fully equivalent.
  • When McElvain argued that offering tax credits through both state-run and federal Exchanges was a “fundamental part of the House version of the bill,” Judge Friedman responded, “Of what relevance is that if their bill didn’t become law?”
  • The government denied the existence of the legislative history that supports the plain meaning of the statute. Adler and I document much of that history in our article.
At the end of Monday’s hearing, Friedman asked the parties to reconvene the very next day, when he issued an oral opinion denying both the government’s motion to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

Exposed: Muslim Brotherhood Operatives in the U.S.

 
El Watan, one of Egypt’s most widely circulated and read newspapers, has published a report discussing the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence over the United States, especially in the context of inciting pro-Brotherhood policies against Egypt’s popular June 30 Revolution, which resulted in the ousting of Muhammad Morsi and the Brotherhood from power.

Titled (in translation), “With Names, Identities, and Roadmap…  El Watan Exposes Brotherhood Cells in America,” it’s written by investigative journalist Ahmed al-Tahiri, who begins the report by saying:
In the context of El Watan’s ongoing investigation concerning the Brotherhood’s cells and lobby inside America that support the regime of the ousted [Morsi], and which intensified their activities to attack and defame the June 30 Revolution, informed sources have disclosed to El Watan newspaper the names and cell entities of the Brotherhood and their roadmap of activities all throughout the United States of America.
The sources said that these organizations, which are spread throughout the States, agitated for and were supportive of the decisions taken by Muhammad Morsi’s project to “Brotherhoodize” and consolidate power [in Egypt] and gave a favorable opinion to the general American public that Morsi’s decisions were welcomed by the public [in Egypt].
Following the June 30 Revolution, these groups  launched a malicious war in order to incite the American administration to take hostile decisions against Egypt, with the aim of bringing back the Brotherhood to power.
El Watan then goes on to name names, saying that the following activists and entities are Brotherhood operatives working within the United States (reproduced verbatim):
  • Union of Egyptian Imams in North America, represented by Sheikh Muhammad al-Bani
  • The Egyptian American Foundation for Development
  • Dr. Khalid Lamada, New York
  • Dr. Hassan al-Sayah, Virginia
  • The Egyptian Network in America, led by Dr. Muhammad Helmi
  • Dr. Akram al-Zand, Sa’ad Foundation
  • Muhammad al-Khashab, head of ART channels in America
  • Sameh al-Henawi, member, Business Association of America
  • Dr. Hany Saqr, member, Egyptian Association in America
  • Dr. Khalid Hassan, Maryland
  • Dr. Muhammad Abdel Hakem, Seattle
  • Dr. Ahmed Ismat al-Bendari, president, Islamic Society of America
  • Walid Yusari, Chicago
  • Ahmed Shadid, New Jersey
  • Ahmed al-Hatab, Indiana
  • Dr. Muhammad Morjan, Boston
  • Ramadan Ridwan, Houston
  • Ahmed Fayez, Las Vegas
  • Dr. Amru Abbas, member, Egyptian Foundation in Michigan
  • Dr. Safi al-Din Hamed, Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Hamdy Radwan, North Carolina
  • Ahmed Shehata, director, Egyptian American Organization for Democracy and Human Rights
  • Dr. Iman Shehata, New York
  • Dr. Muhammad Amru Attawiya, member, Organization of Islamic Relief in the United States
  • Dr. Khalid al-Sayes, member, Rebuilding of Egypt Foundation
  • Dr. Tariq Hussein, member, American Islamic Relations Council (CAIR)
  • Dr Hisham al-Gayar, member, Egyptian Foundation, Michigan
  • Amin Mahmoud, Maryland
As a most recent example, El Watan quotes from an American op-ed published on October 16 (just two days before the publication of the El Watan report itself).  Titled “Egypt: 100 days later” and written by Ahmed Shehata of the Egyptian American Organization for Democracy and Human Rights, the piece appeared in The Hill, the Capitol’s most widely circulated newspaper, published specifically for Congress.

The op-ed is certainly a prime example of pro-Muslim Brotherhood propaganda that actually tries to “shame” U.S. policymakers into returning the Brotherhood back to power in the name of “democracy.”  Key excerpts follow:
While the U.S. must consider its own interests in the region, it is baffling and disheartening to think the current administration would choose to discount the suffering that continues to occur on a daily basis as well as the complete violation of democratic principles which it espouses to the rest of the world….  As this past week marked 100 days since the coup and the lives of the Egyptian people continue to be sacrificed, the United States cannot be silent any longer for the sake of their own interests and convenience….  To that end, Egypt represents a golden opportunity for the U.S. to uphold democratic values by pushing for the reinstatement of the democratically elected government, despite their shortcomings. This would aid tremendously in showing the world that, above any one particular physical interest, stands the mantle of freedom and the rule of law.
Anyone familiar with the real happenings of Egypt knows that Shehata’s assertions are complete opposites of the truth: the military ousted the Brotherhood in response to the will of millions of Egyptians—the people, the demos, as in democracy—who took to the streets protesting against the totalitarian Morsi government.   Moreover, it is the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters who have been committing numerous human rights atrocities—including the slaughter and persecution of Christians, the torture and murder of many Egyptians (including before the revolution), and the destruction and torching of some 85 Christian churches.

Shehata seems to think that, if the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters terrorize, murder, destroy, persecute, and betray their nation—which is precisely why tens of millions of average Egyptians rose up against them (though you might not know that following Al Jazeera-led Western media that distorted the popularity of the revolution)—as long as they won “elections” (which from the start many authorities insisted they didn’t), then that is all that matters; and, if need be, the U.S. must war with Egypt’s military and people on behalf of the ousted terrorists—all in the name of “democracy” and “human rights,” as Shehata’s U.S.-based Brotherhood front is laughably called.

That such a shameless piece of Muslim Brotherhood propaganda can be published in the most influential and widely read Capitol Hill publication certainly goes a long way in validating El Watan’s claims that the Brotherhood has its tentacles all around the United States’ points of influence.

Israel furious with Obama White House for leaking that it hit Hizballah weapons cache in Syria

From Jihad Watch / Posted by Robert Spencer

Obama is not behaving as if the U.S. is Israel's ally. He has partnered with "Palestinian" jihadists and haters of Israel from the beginning of his political career. And he has acted consistently with those partnerships throughout his presidency.

"Israel ‘furious’ with White House for leak on Syria strike," from the Times of Israel, November 1 (thanks to Benedict):
Israel is fuming with the White House for confirming that it was the Israeli Air Force that struck a military base near the Syrian port city of Latakia on Wednesday, hitting weaponry that was set to be transferred to Hezbollah. 
Israel has not acknowledged carrying out the strike, one of half a dozen such attacks widely ascribed to Israel in recent months, but an Obama administration official told CNN on Thursday that Israeli warplanes had indeed attacked the Syrian base, and that the target was “missiles and related equipment” set for delivery to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV on Friday night quoted Israeli officials branding the American leak as “scandalous.” For Israel’s ally to be acting in this way was “unthinkable,” the officials were quoted as saying.
A second TV report, on Israel’s Channel 2, said the leak “came directly from the White House,” and noted that “this is not the first time” that the administration has compromised Israel by leaking information on such Israeli Air Force raids on Syrian targets.
It said some previous leaks were believed to have come from the Pentagon, and that consideration had been given at one point to establishing a panel to investigate the sources.
Channel 2′s military analyst, Roni Daniel, said the Obama administration’s behavior in leaking the information was unfathomable.
Daniel noted that by keeping silent on whether it carried out such attacks, Israel was maintaining plausible deniability, so that Syria’s President Bashar Assad did not feel pressured to respond to the attacks.
But the US leaks “are pushing Assad closer to the point where he can’t swallow these attacks, and will respond.” This in turn would inevitably draw further Israeli action, Daniel posited, and added bitterly: “Then perhaps the US will clap its hands because it will have started a very major flare-up.”...

Global warming...NO I don't think so


Antarctic Ice Sets New Record
 
Amid ongoing warnings about the perils of global warming and rising sea levels comes the news that the extent of sea ice surrounding Antarctica set a new record in September — for the second year in a row.

On Sept. 22, sea ice extended over 7.51 million square miles of the Southern Ocean, the largest extent in the satellite record, NASA reported.

The previous record, set in September 2012, was 7.50 million square miles.

Antarctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent in February or March and then grows until reaching its maximum in September or October.

"For the second year in a row, we set a record high winter maximum," said Walt Meier, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "But even though it is a record high, it is only 3.6 percent above the 1981-2010 average maximum."

The overall trend shows growth in the extent of sea ice of about 1.5 percent per decade, NASA disclosed, adding: "Multiple factors — including the geography of Antarctica, the region's winds, as well as air and ocean temperatures — all affect the ice."

The Climate Policy Initiative's "Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2013" report, issued in October, disclosed that gov

Governments and private entities around the world spent $359 billion to fight global warming in 2012. Of that total, 94 percent was spent to support "greenhouse gas mitigation," according to the report, including more than 2,000 large-scale projects involving renewable energy in 19 countries.