Incompetence Update: Obama State Department Plans To Bring Foreign Ebola Patients To U.S.

State Department Plans To Bring Foreign Ebola Patients To U.S. – Washington Times

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The State Department has quietly made plans to bring Ebola-infected doctors and medical aides to the U.S. for treatment, according to an internal department document that argued the only way to get other countries to send medical teams to West Africa is to promise that the U.S. will be the world’s medical backstop.

Some countries “are implicitly or explicitly waiting for medevac assurances” before they will agree to send their own medical teams to join U.S. and U.N. aid workers on the ground, the State Department argues in the undated four-page memo, which was reviewed by The Washington Times.

“The United States needs to show leadership and act as we are asking others to act by admitting certain non-citizens into the country for medical treatment for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) during the Ebola crisis,” says the four-page memo, which lists as its author Robert Sorenson, deputy director of the office of international health and biodefense.

More than 10,000 people have become infected with Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and the U.S. has taken a lead role in arguing that the outbreak must be stopped in West Africa. President Obama has committed thousands of U.S. troops and has deployed American medical personnel, but other countries have been slow to follow.

In the memo, officials say their preference is for patients go to Europe, but there are some cases in which the U.S. is “the logical treatment destination for non-citizens.”

The document has been shared with Congress, where lawmakers already are nervous about the administration’s handling of the Ebola outbreak. The memo even details the expected price per patient, with transportation costs at $200,000 and treatment at $300,000.

A State Department official signaled Tuesday evening that the discussions had been shelved.

“There is no policy of the U.S. government to allow entry of non-U.S. citizen Ebola-infected to the United States. There is no consideration in the State Department of changing that policy,” the official said.

Another official said the department is considering using American aircraft equipped to handle Ebola cases to transport noncitizens to other countries.

“We have discussed allowing other countries to use our medevac capabilities to evacuate their own citizens to their home countries or third-countries, subject to reimbursement and availability,” the second department official said.

The internal State Department memo is described as “sensitive but unclassified.” A tracking sheet attached to it says it was cleared by offices of the deputy secretary, the deputy secretary for management, the office of Central African affairs and the medical services office.

A call to the number listed for Mr. Sorenson wasn’t returned Tuesday.

Mr. Obama has been clear about his desire to recruit medical and aid workers to fight Ebola in Africa.

“We know that the best way to protect Americans ultimately is going to stop this outbreak at the source,” the president said at the White House on Tuesday, praising U.S. aid workers who are already involved in the effort. “No other nation is doing as much to make sure that we contain and ultimately eliminate this outbreak than America.”

About half of the more than 10,000 cases in West Africa have been fatal.

Four cases have been diagnosed in the U.S., and three of those were health care workers treating infected patients. Two of those, both nurses at a Dallas hospital, have been cured.

Several American aid workers who contracted the disease overseas were flown to the U.S. for treatment.

The United Nations and World Health Organization are also heavily involved in deploying to the affected region, but other countries have been slower to provide resources to fight Ebola in West Africa or to agree to treat workers who contract the disease.

The State Department memo says only Germany has agreed to take non-German citizens who contract Ebola.

European nations are closer to West Africa, making transport easier, the State Department memo said.

Officials said the U.S. is the right place to treat some cases, notably those in which non-Americans are contracted to work in West Africa for U.S.-based charities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“So far all of the Ebola medevacs brought back to U.S. hospitals have been U.S. citizens. But there are many non-citizens working for U.S. government agencies and organizations in the Ebola-affected countries of West Africa,” the memo says. “Many of them are citizens of countries lacking adequate medical care, and if they contracted Ebola in the course of their work they would need to be evacuated to medical facilities in the United States or Europe.”

The memo says the State Department has a contract with Phoenix Aviation, which maintains an airplane capable of transporting an Ebola patient. The U.S. can transport noncitizens and have other countries or organizations pay the cost.

The U.S. has helped transport three health care workers to Germany and one to France.

In the U.S., the department memo lists three hospitals – the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta – that are willing to take Ebola patients.

According to the memo, Homeland Security Department officials would be required to waive legal restrictions to speed the transport of patients into the U.S.
“A pre-established framework would be essential to guarantee that only authorized individuals would be considered for travel authorization and that all necessary vetting would occur,” the memo says.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman didn’t return emails seeking comment.

Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning public interest watchdog, revealed the existence of a State Department plan this month. When The Times described the document to Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch’s president, he said it is evidence of why the administration balked at adopting a travel ban on those from affected countries.

“Under this theory, there could be people moving here now, transporting people here now, and it could be done with no warning,” Mr. Fitton said. “If our borders mean anything, it is the ability to make sure that dire threats to the public health are kept out.”

After those initial reports surfaced, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, sent a letter asking for answers. On Tuesday, he said the document The Times obtained “raises more concerns and questions than answers.”

“President Obama should be forthcoming with the American people about the scope of his plan to bring non-U.S. citizens infected with Ebola to the United States for treatment,” Mr. Goodlatte said in a statement.

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Thanks Barack… 73,000 Marylanders To Lose Current Health Plans Due To Obamacare

About 73,000 Marylanders To Lose Current Health Plans – Capital Gazette

About 73,000 Marylanders will lose their health coverage on or after Jan. 1 due to regulations mandated by the federal Affordable Care Act.

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The Maryland Insurance Administration was notified by nine insurance carriers that they will discontinue some of their health plans starting in the new year, said Joseph A. Sviatko, a spokesman for the agency.

The ACA, passed in 2010, does not require people with health plans purchased before March 23, 2010, to buy new coverage, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Those plans are grandfathered into the new law.

But plans that were changed after March 2010 – including changes to deductibles, co-pay or benefits – must meet new federal requirements.

The ACA mandates all health insurance premiums must cover 10 essential health benefits, including hospitalization, prescription drugs, maternity and newborn care.

Approximately 73,000 nongrandfathered plans in Maryland will be discontinued, Sviatko said.

“Those plans are being replaced with stronger coverage that provides more consumer protection, such as guaranteed coverage, mental health parity, and prescription drug coverage,” Sviatko said in an email.

Health care plans that have remained unchanged since March 23, 2010, can be renewed, he said.

CareFirst BlueCross Blue-Shield, which handles about 70 percent of Maryland’s individual insurance market, said close to 76,000 of its customers could lose their current health plans in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., by January.

A CareFirst spokesman said about 60,000 of those cancellations would take place in Maryland.

CareFirst has close to 120,000 individual members in the state.

Sviatko did not know how many health care plans would be discontinued in Anne Arundel County. Most people should receive 90 days notice before their health coverage is discontinued, he said.

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Leftist-Run Detroit Plans Mass Water Shutoffs Over $260M In Delinquent Bills

Detroit Plans Mass Water Shutoffs Over $260M In Delinquent Bills – Detroit News

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has a message for Detroit residents and companies more than 60 days late on their water bills: We’re coming for you.

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With more than half of the city’s customers behind on payments, the department is gearing up for an aggressive campaign to shut off service to 1,500-3,000 delinquent accounts weekly, said Darryl Latimer, the department’s deputy director.

Including businesses, schools and commercial buildings, there are 323,900 Detroit water and sewerage accounts; 164,938 were overdue for a total of $175 million as of March 6. Residential accounts total 296,115; 154,229 were delinquent for a total of $91.7 million.

The department halts cutoffs through the winter because of complications associated with freezing temperatures, such as damaged pipes. But this spring, a new contractor has been hired to target those who are more than two months behind or who owe more than $150 — twice the average monthly bill of $75.

The department says it’s now ready to “catch up” with cutoffs halted because of the unusually harsh winter weather. DWSD is looking to show there are consequences associated with not paying water bills, Latimer said.

“Not everyone is in the situation where they can’t afford to pay,” he said. “It’s just that the utility bill is the last bill people choose to pay because there isn’t any threat of being out of service.”

People pay up more when they see the department out cutting off water to neighbors, and the statistics bear that out, officials said. In July, for example, before contractors started on the shutoffs, the department cut off 1,566 customers. That month, it collected $149,000 in water bills.

Extra contractors started working on cutoffs last summer. Attheir peak in October – before cold weather caused a halt to the disconnects – 3,700 cutoffs occurred. The department collected more than $350,000 in overdue bills that month. That number of cutoffs translated to more than double for warm weather months compared to last year.

“We’re trying to shift the behavioral payment patterns of our customer base right now,” said Constance Williams-Levye, DWSD commercial operations specialist. “And so aggressively we’ll have a team of contractors coming in, in addition to our field teams.”

Up to 20 additional contractor crews are expected to be employed working on the cutoffs, DWSD officials said.

The department bills monthly and sends out notices when bills are overdue. When an account is more than 60 days late, a notice goes out saying service could be cut, Latimer said.

Residents don’t necessarily have to move out but Latimer said there were instances, in the case of households with children, where the department of social services will come in and say the kids will be removed from the home if water is not restored.

“Usually folks will then come in and make some kind of arrangement,” Latimer said.
Long-overdue effort

Department officials say the initiative is unrelated to Detroit’s bankruptcy restructuring and is simply a renewed effort to remedy a longstanding problem. The fear of being stuck with Detroit’s delinquencies, however, has kept suburban leaders from embracing a regional water authority proposed by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the department should have started being more assertive in its collections years ago.

“It’s all about the management responsibility,” Hackel said. “If they’re just getting around to it now, what were they doing before? Collections are just part of a system that’s been neglected for years.”

On Monday, the department is scheduled to send mailings to thousands of customers warning if their overdue water balances aren’t paid, the bill would be considered a property tax lien and could result in foreclosure.

Communities pay a combination of a fixed amount per month as well as an amount for every thousand cubic feet of water – or every 7,480 gallons. Detroit residents, on average, pay about 25 percent less than suburban water customers.

The department also is tightening a policy that allows customers to make multiple partial payments on overdue accounts. That creates a situation in which some go in and out of delinquency status, Latimer said. Plans call for allowing an overdue customer only one payment arrangement per year.
Suburbs remain reluctant

Orr has been trying to convince suburban officials – without success – to buy into the concept of a regional authority that would take over operations and responsibilities of the utility.

In return for greater control of operations, the authority would pay $47 million a year to the city.

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano has supported the concept of a regional authority. But Hackel and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson have balked at the proposal, in part over concerns that their customers would end up taking on the cost of Detroit’s widespread delinquencies.

This month, Orr sent notices to the three counties on ending negotiations until the suburban leaders gain a consensus on a regional authority creation.

Orr said he is actively moving ahead with a second plan – selling the city-owned system or leasing it to a private management firm. Orr told The Detroit News on Wednesday he will send out requests for information in a couple of weeks or sooner gauging interest from private operators.

He says the regional authority plan was a good deal for everyone – including suburban customers – but recognizes that it isn’t going to happen.

Orr said the regional plan would benefit Detroit by generating about $47 million a year in lease payments to the city. The second plan would generate some $72 million a year through lower interest rates, but that money would go only to the water system, not the city.

Improved collections of delinquent Detroit accounts would be helpful, said Robert Daddow, Oakland County’s deputy county executive.

But far too many questions remain over issues including pension liabilities, cash flow and infrastructure and capital improvements, he said.

“Shutting of the water certainly sends a message,” Daddow said. “But this certainly isn’t just the people who will not pay; it’s the people who cannot pay because they don’t have the income level that would enable them to do so.”

In talks regarding the authority, some have asked whether the state could help low-income individuals with water bills. There are statewide programs to help people with their heating bills, for example, including The Heat and Warmth Fund (THAW), a Detroit-basednonprofit that helps people pay heating bills.

“Why not have something equivalent for water and sewer?” Daddow said. But no such program is currently on the table.

Customers end up paying higher rates on bills for those from whom the utility can’t collect. Detroit residents and businesses – retail customers of the department – pay for negligent accounts in Detroit. Suburban customers pay for noncollectable accounts in the suburbs, Latimer explained.

Suburban communities add charges for their customers in addition to the wholesale rate billed by the Detroit water department to cover infrastructure and operating costs.
Long-term delinquents

The department has been working with Detroit Public Schools for years over delinquent accounts. DPS has a current overdue balance of $2.2 million, department officials say, down from a high of $12 million in 2012.

DPS disputes that number, but has been making monthly payments of nearly $1 million under a payment plan approved in October.

The department also continues to work collecting from suburban communities with delinquent accounts.

The department filed a federal lawsuit in November against Highland Park. The city has racked up $17.4 million in sewerage bills and an additional $1.6 million in water bills, according to DWSD. Last month the city removed the case from the federal courts and filed in state court “where it may be a faster process to gain relief,” according to the department.

The city of Inkster has an outstanding balance of nearly $1.2 million as of this month. But the city is paying on the current bill and making additional monthly payments, said Mathew Kannanthanam, a commercial operations specialist with DWSD. The city entered into a payment plan in April to pay the balance off by June of 2016, according to DWSD.

Melvindale also has an outstanding balance of nearly $1.1 million in water and sewerage bills.

The department is also owed more $670,000 from companies in Redford, Dearborn and Macomb Township for pollutant surcharges related to food and other processing disposals. Detroit-based Uncle Ray’s Snacks owes more than $676,000 in pollutant surcharges.

The company has agreed to a payment plan, according to DWSD records.

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Bankrupt Detroit Pays $32 To Process A $30 Parking Ticket – Independent Journal Review

I could be wrong, but I think I’ve uncovered Detroit’s financial problem: The bankrupt city pays $32 to issue and process a $30 parking ticket. Obviously, they need to issue more tickets to make up the difference.

Not only is the city paying $32 to issue and process a $30 parking violation, it hasn’t adjusted rates since 2001. Even worse? Half of Detroit’s 3,404 parking meters are out-of-order at any given time.

Bill Nowling, spokesman for Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, says:

“It’s another example of the old, antiquated system and processes the city has that creates impediments for anyone trying to do their job.”

Detroit is considering a proposal from restructuring consultants to bump its current parking fines of $20, $30 and $100 per ticket to a two-tiered structure of $45 and $150.

Proving once again that government will never run like corporate America. Can you imagine owning – or working for – a company that not only loses money on every product it sells, but continues to do so for 13 years? Yeah, me neither.

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Putin Sending Ships, Long-Range Bombers To Latin America; Plans New Bases In Cuba, Venezuela And Nicaragua

Putin’s Quiet Latin America Play – The Hill

Away from the conflict in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is quietly seeking a foothold in Latin America, military officials warn.

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To the alarm of lawmakers and Pentagon officials, Putin has begun sending navy ships and long-range bombers to the region for the first time in years.

Russia’s defense minister says the country is planning bases in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and just last week, Putin’s national security team met to discuss increasing military ties in the region.

“They’re on the march,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said at a Senate hearing earlier this month. “They’re working the scenes where we can’t work. And they’re doing a pretty good job.”

Gen. James Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command said there has been a “noticeable uptick in Russian power projection and security force personnel” in Latin America.

“It has been over three decades since we last saw this type of high-profile Russian military presence,” Kelly said at the March 13 hearing.

The U.S. military says it has been forced to cut back on its engagement with military and government officials in Latin America due to budget cuts. Kelly said the U.S. military had to cancel more than 200 effective engagement activities and multi-lateral exercises in Latin America last year.

With the American presence waning, officials say rivals such as Russia, China and Iran are quickly filling the void.

Iran has opened up 11 additional embassies and 33 cultural centers in Latin America while supporting the “operational presence” of militant group Lebanese Hezbollah in the region.

“On the military side, I believe they’re establishing, if you will, lily pads for future use if they needed to use them,” Kelly said.

China is making a play for Latin America a well, and is now the fastest growing investor in the region, according to experts. Although their activity is mostly economic, they are also increasing military activity through educational exchanges.

The Chinese Navy conducted a goodwill visit in Brazil, Chile and Argentina last year and conducted its first-ever naval exercise with the Argentine Navy.

Meanwhile, the U.S. had to cancel the deployment of its hospital ship USNS Comfort last year.

“Our relationships, our leadership, and our influence in the Western Hemisphere are paying the price,” Kelly said.

Some experts warn against being too alarmist, and say Russia, China and Iran do not have the ability or desire to project military power beyond their borders.

Army War College adjunct professor Gabriel Marcella said Russia’s maneuvering is more about posturing than a real threat.

“Latin America is seen as an opportunity to challenge the United States in terms of global presence,” he said. “They want to show the flag to assert their presence and say they need to be counted on the world stage.”

Other experts said the encroachment of rivals has huge economic implications for the U.S., which has more trade partners in Latin America than in any other region in the world.

“[Russia’s presence] serves to destabilize what has become a more stabilized, middle class continent with an increasing respect for the rule of law… Any type of unsettling of that environment will scare off investors,” said Jason Marczak, deputy director at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

“Market economies and democracies are fundamental for trade, for jobs, and for stable investment environments,” he said.

Marczak noted the instability in Venezuela, which is facing civil unrest from anti-government protestors.

“In Venezuela, a lot of the money that’s been able to prop up President Chavez and now Maduro has been Chinese money,” Kelly said.

So far, 31 protestors have been killed in clashes with government security forces.

“I see a real degradation in what used to pass as Venezuelan democracy. There’s less and less of that now,” Kelly said.

And while Chinese investment in Latin America could have positive aspects for the region, it could also make it more difficult for U.S. official to push labor and environmental safeguards that it argues are building blocks for democracy, Marczak said.

Angel Rabasa, a senior political scientist at RAND, said cuts to the defense budget are going to accelerate a long trend of U.S. neglect and disengagement with Latin America.

According to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), there are 10 countries in Latin America that currently have no U.S. ambassador because they either haven’t been nominated yet or confirmed, a sign that the region is seen as a low priority.

“We will be losing the ability to influence developments in a region that is very important to us because of proximity,” Rabasa said.

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Leftist Nightmare Update: Costs Of ObamaCare Bungles Start To Add Up, With Maryland First At About $30.5M

Costs Of ObamaCare Bungles Start To Add Up, With Maryland First At About $30.5M – Fox News

Maryland could end up spending as much as $30.5 million as a result of a glitch in its ObamaCare website, as the Obama administration steps in to help states with problematic exchanges.

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Because of Maryland’s defective exchange, the state cannot determine whether customers remain eligible for Medicaid, according to a report by state budget analysts released Thursday.

As a result, the state has agreed with the federal government to a six-month delay in determining eligibility, meaning that payments will continue to be made to customers who are not eligible until the system is fixed. The delay will cost the state $17.8 million in fiscal 2014 and $12.7 million in fiscal 2015, the analysts estimated.

On Friday, the Obama administration said it would suspend some Affordable Care Act rules to help the 14 states with their own ObamaCare sites, particularly Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Oregon, which have had the most problems.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plan, completed a day earlier, states the federal government will help pay for “qualified” health-insurance plans for customers in those states who because of “exceptional circumstances” had to buy plans outside of ObamaCare exchanges, as reported first by The Washington Post.

The administration made the change before the end-of-March deadline for Americans to enroll in ObamaCare this year.

In Maryland, the exchange cannot convert income data from the existing Medicaid enrollment system into a calculation needed to review whether enrollees are qualified “because of a variety of system architectural flaws,” according to budge analysts.

The exchange has been plagued by computer problems that have made it difficult for people to enroll in private health care plans since its debut Oct. 1.

State officials have decided to stick with the exchange through the open enrollment period that ends March 31 but is evaluating alternatives with an eye toward the next enrollment period that begins in November.

Among the possibilities is adopting technology developed by another state, joining a consortium of other states, partnering with the federal exchange or making major fixes to the existing system.

Thirty-six states use the federal HealthCare.gov site, which crashed and had other major problems in the first two months of enrollment.

The Maryland report said the state may need to develop an interim solution while a long-term solution is being developed. However, that process would likely take at least nine to 12 months, pushing up against the next open-enrollment period.

The report also states the development of the exchange was “a high risk undertaking” from the outset, in large part because of contractors woes, tight deadlines, constantly evolving requirement and its need to interface with work-in-progress federal databases.

The administration changes this week are not the first to ObamaCare, to be sure.

In November, Obama helped Americans about to lose policies because they didn’t meet new minimum requirements by allow the substandard plans to be sold through the end of this year.

And administration officials has twice this year given medium- and large-sized employers more time to offer health insurance to most full-time workers.

However, the change this week is significant because it marks the first time the federal government has agreed to help pay for policies bought outside the new exchanges.

The coverage in the outside policies would have to be comparable to those offered on the exchange. And customers would have to start paying premiums, then get the subsidies after the state exchanges could determine their income eligibility.

Maryland Health Benefit Exchange official told The Post earlier this week that roughly 7,000 applications are stuck in state’s system, but all of them might not need insurance and that officials were still looking over the administration’s offer.

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45-State Study: Obamacare Offers Less Choice, Higher Prices, Breaking Another Promise – Washington Examiner

A new and comprehensive comparison of health insurance options offered by Obamacare versus private websites finds that President Obama’s program offers less choice and higher prices than promised by the White House and leading Democrats.

Adding to the list of broken health care promises, the study from the National Center for Public Policy Research found that there were more and cheaper options available on websites outside the health insurance exchange in 2013 than on healthcare.gov and state Obamacare exchanges.

The report, “Obamacare Exchanges: Less Choice, Higher Prices,” looked at options available for a 27-year-old single person and a 57-year-old couple in metropolitan areas across 45 states.

The report found that a 27-year-old male had about 10 more policies to choose from on eHealthinsurance.com and finder.healthcare versus the exchange. The older couple had about nine more policy choices.

Ditto for the cost findings, with the 27-year-old male having access to 32 policies that cost less than the cheapest Obamacare offering, and the 57-year-old couple access to 29 cheaper policies.

“In general, consumers had substantially more policies to choose from on private websites such as eHealthinsurance.com and Finder.healthcare.gov than they presently have on the exchanges,” said the study.

“Obamacare supporters, including the president himself and Nancy Pelosi, claimed the exchanges would yield more choice and lower prices,” said the study’s author, David Hogberg. “This study shows those claims do not stand up.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, describes itself f as a “non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank.”

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House Subcommittee Chairman: Obama Administration Policy Would Eliminate Half Of All Existing Medicare Part D Plans – Daily Caller

The Obama administration’s new proposed rule for Medicare Part D would eliminate half of all Medicare Part D plans and raise prescription drug premiums for millions of seniors by up to 20 percent, according to a U.S. House subcommittee chairman.

“Today, the average senior has 35 different [Medicare Part D] plans to choose from this year. This rule would reduce that choice to two plans. 50% of the plans offered today will be gone, and the health care that seniors like may go with it,” House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Pitts said in a statement at a Feb. 26 hearing attended by a top administration health official.

“Limiting seniors’ choices like this will inevitably lead to higher costs. By some estimates, the restriction on the number of plans that can be offered could cause premiums to rise by 10%-20%. Costs to the federal government may increase by $1.2-1.6 billion according to a study by Milliman,” Pitts said. “… I urge Secretary Sebelius and Administrator Tavenner to rescind this rule.”

The study Pitts cited also showed that the new rule would increase out-of-pocket drug costs for 6.9 million seniors who do not qualify for low-income subsidies, and would raise federal taxpayer costs for six million seniors who do qualify.

President Bush signed Medicare Part D into law in 2003 to subsidize prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.

The Daily Caller reported that the administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a division of Kathleen Sebelius’ Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recently introduced a new proposed rule on the Federal Register called “Medicare Program: Contract Year 2015 Policy and Technical Changes to the Medicare Advantage and the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Programs.”

The new rule “would revise the Medicare Advantage (MA) program (Part C) regulations and prescription drug benefit program (Part D) regulations to implement statutory requirements; strengthen beneficiary protections; exclude plans that perform poorly; improve program efficiencies; and clarify program requirements,” according to the Federal Register.

The rule states that it also aims “to implement certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.”

The new rule’s stated desire to “strengthen our ability to identify strong applicants for Part C and Part D program participation and remove consistently poor performers” would give the Obama administration new authority to limit health insurance and prescription drug providers under the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D programs.

The rule would also violate the Medicare Part D’s law’s “non-interference provision that prohibits the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) from interfering with the negotiations between drug manufacturers and pharmacies and sponsors of prescription drug plans,” according to testimony by American Action Forum president Douglas Holtz-Eakin, violating “congressional intent.”

Rep. Pitts expressed confusion and anger at CMS’ new rule.

“CMS itself says that 96% of the Part D claims it reviewed showed seniors saved money at preferred pharmacies, and nearly 25,500 seniors in my district have chosen Part D plans with a preferred pharmacy network. Yet CMS would take that away from them,” Pitts said.

“The Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit is a government success story. Last year, nearly 39 million beneficiaries were enrolled in a Part D prescription drug plan,” Pitts said.

“Competition and choice have kept premiums stable. In fact, in 2006, the first year the program was in effect, the base beneficiary premium was $32.20 a month. In 2014, the base beneficiary premium is $32.42 – a 22-cent increase over 9 years – and still roughly half of what was originally predicted,” Pitts added. “More than 90% of seniors are satisfied with their Part D drug coverage because of this. African-American and Hispanic seniors report even higher levels of satisfaction, at 95% and 94%, respectively.”

“The program has worked so well because it forces prescription drug plans and providers to compete for Medicare beneficiaries – putting seniors, not Washington, in the driver’s seat. Part D should be the model for future reforms to the Medicare program,” Pitts said.

House Energy and Commerce committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton joined with Pitts at the hearing in criticizing the new rule.

“The proposed rule, issued on January 6, 2014, appears to be a direct assault on the competitive structure of the program. It inhibits the ability of plans to obtain discounts for beneficiaries, limits the range of market segments in which they may compete, and usurps the responsibility of states to license those able to prescribe. This 700-page proposal makes numerous changes,” Upton said.

CMS principal deputy administrator Jonathan Blum testified that limiting Part D sponsors to providing only two plans per region will “promote needed clarity of plan choices for beneficiaries.”

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Leftist Nightmare Update: Obamacare Enrollees Finding It Impossible To Cancel Plans (Video)

Obamacare Enrollees ‘Finding It Impossible To Cancel Their Plans’ – Weekly Standard

A Florida TV station reports that a man has spent 50-60 hours trying to cancel his Obamacare plan, and he still can’t get off it:

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“We are hearing about a new problem that involves the Affordable Care Act,” said the anchor. “People who signed up for coverage are finding it impossible to cancel their plans. Channel 9’s Lori Brown spoke with an Orlando man who has been trying unsuccessfully to cancel for more than six weeks now.”

“Andrew Robinson was looking forward to getting health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. He has a small publishing business and works part time, so he hasn’t had coverage. In early January he signed up for a plan that cost nearly $300 a month. About a half hour later he and his wife realized they could barely afford that. They quickly found a less expensive plan through Humana for $116 a month,” says the reporter.

“I immediately called back the Florida Blue and asked them to cancel the policy I just set up,” says Robinson.

“But he quickly learned canceling Obamacare is no easy task… More than six weeks later after spending 50 to 60 hours on the phone his policy is still not canceled and he is still waiting for the payment Florida Blue withdrew from his account to be refunded.”

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How Many Obamacare Customers Have Actually Paid For Their Plans? Less Than You May Think

How Many Obamacare Customers Have Paid For Their Plans? – Daily Caller

Democrats claim three million people have enrolled in private health insurance through Obamacare. But how many have actually paid for their plans?

Several state exchanges have begun reporting the number of customers that did pay their first premiums, and some results are as low as 51 percent.

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The Obama administration defines HealthCare.gov enrollees as those who have simply selected plans, but not paid. If the limited data available plays out for more states, actual enrollment could be much lower than the three million private insurance signups currently claimed.

Only five of the 15 state exchanges clearly differentiate between paid enrollments and selected plans or completed applications. The remaining 35 states operating under HealthCare.gov make no such distinction.

While the number of states reporting this information is small, they actually make up a good chunk of Obamacare’s currently accepted 3 million nationwide enrollment total. According to the Obama administration’s most recent detailed report on enrollment data, these five states – New York, California, Washington state, Nevada and Rhode Island – account for a third.

California’s exchange last reported that three-fourths of its reported enrollees had paid their first premiums, according to California Healthline; Washington’s totals released Tuesday indicate that only 51 percent have purchased their plans.

New York’s numbers are fuzzier, since the exchange itself doesn’t separate applications for Medicaid and private plans. It counts 412,221 enrollments for public and private coverage (just 251,000 are private plans), but notes that another 697,000 customers have completed applications on the exchange website. If the entire 421,221 have paid (or accepted the low- to no-cost Medicaid coverage), New York’s payment rate is only 59 percent.

Nevada’s payment rate is just 66 percent – 14,999 out of 22,597 so far – and Rhode Island has by far the best total, with 14,086 paid customers out of 16,512, for a payment rate of 85 percent.

Even analysts who are pessimistic about Obamacare’s chances of success hbelieve most states will have a fairly high proportion of consumers follow through and pay their premiums. Health industry expert Bob Laszewski estimates that around 20 percent of so-called enrollees won’t end up purchasing their coverage – just under Rhode Island’s rate.

But the data available so far indicates a much lower share of fully-paid customers.

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