Months after the Veterans Administration scandal exploded in the headlines, top officials are still lying and hiding information from Congress, and President Obama is actively trying to roll back the freedom of veterans to seek health care outside of the government system.
That’s the conclusion of Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Last May, the VA was rocked by reports that veterans were forced to wait months for routine medical appointments and that some officials were doctoring hospital and medical records to cover up the failure to provide care. In response, Veterans Affairs Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned and Congress approved legislation giving future secretaries more freedom to remove ineffective personnel. Former Procter & Gamble Chairman Robert McDonald was eventually confirmed to succeed Shinseki and lead major reform efforts.
Are there signs of improvement?
On Monday evening, the House Veterans Affairs Committee grilled VA General Counsel Leigh Bradley over why more than 100 separate requests for information from the committee have gone unanswered for months and why the information that is given is often found to be false.
“The news only gets worse and worse,” Huelskamp said.
According to Associated Press reports on the hearing, committee chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., expressed deep frustration with the VA’s lack of cooperation on key facts, including wait times for veterans at the Phoenix hospital where the scandal began.
“Let there be no mistake or misunderstanding: When this committee requests documents, I expect production to be timely, complete and accurate,” Miller said.
Huelskamp is particularly incensed at the falsehoods coming out of the VA, including one stated by Secretary McDonald on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“They have falsified information, and it is not just lying to members of Congress; it’s lying to the American people,” he said. “We even had the secretary about a month ago lie on national television and claim that he had fired 60 employees that made up, falsified, cooked the books on wait times for our vulnerable veterans.”
The real number was nowhere near that high.
“He only fired four,” Huelskamp said. “There’s a big difference between four and 60, so there’s a lack of trust there. But this is, more importantly, a lack of trust between veterans who deserve their care and whether they’re getting in on time and whether they’re getting the proper care.”
And the congressman said the lies don’t stop there.
“The VA claimed that at the (Los Angeles) veterans facility, the wait was only four days,” he said. “We found out later, according to a CNN report, that it’s more than 30 days. Who do you believe? Who I believe is the veteran. If the veteran says they’ve been waiting, that’s what happens.”
Huelskamp said when Congress tries to separate fact from fiction, the massive VA bureaucracy grinds investigations to a halt.
“We’ve had, I think, three secretaries of the VA in my four years here,” he said. “For secretary after secretary and undersecretary after undersecretary, I didn’t know that had that many undersecretaries. They always send a new one over, and the answer is always, ‘We’ll get back to you. We’ll get that answer to you.’
“We have documented where they have lied to the committee, where they have falsified information,” he said.
If anything good came out of the VA scandal, Huelskamp believes it is the provision within last year’s reform bill that allows veterans to access care outside of the government system to shorten how long they wait for care. The congressman said expanded choice is working well for veterans and no longer forces many of them to travel hundreds of miles to approved doctors and facilities. He said that change is further proof the less government is involved in our health care, the better that care will be.
“That’s the best government health care you can get, and what we saw in Phoenix and around the country is that it’s been an abysmal failure,” Huelskamp said.
While the expanded health-care choices may be popular with veterans, Huelskamp said the Obama administration is actively trying to eliminate it.
“When the administration came in and asked to end the Veterans Choice Program, that sent shock waves through Congress because most Democrats and Republicans agree we need to improve the system and give veterans more choice in their health care,” he said.
“There’s a pushback from the administration, but the secretary has agreed – maybe not the president but the secretary has agreed – veterans deserve to keep their choice,” he said. “We’re trying to push the VA in a different direction than Obamacare is taking the rest of the health-care system. I think, at the end of the day, the better model is putting Americans in charge of their health care, not Washington, D.C.”
When will Congress get timely answers and the VA operate more efficiently? Huelskamp said a big part of the problem is a massive government bureaucracy that takes a long time to straighten out.
“There’s a culture of non-accountability, a culture of attacks on whistleblowers. That’s been going on for decades. It’s difficult to change that. That takes years,” said Huelskamp, who estimates some 330,000 bureaucrats are involved in VA operations.
“I think many of them do a terrific job, but it’s a system that’s set up based on the 1950s and ’60s, not 2015,” he said. “So it is a cultural shift at the VA, but the president has to provide leadership. I fear in the next two years, he will continue to drift away from any commitments to veterans in terms of reforming the system.”
What about Secretary McDonald? Is he the right man to lead this change?
“We’ll see if the secretary can answer those questions we asked a couple of nights ago,” Huelskamp said. “Some of these questions have been outstanding for months, which will give us insight (into) whether they’re really making the changes that were promised.”
Three senior House Democrats are pleading with the Obama administration to bend the Obamacare rules to prevent their constituents and millions of Americans from being hit with Obamacare tax penalties.
Reps. Sander Levin (D-MI), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) have strongly requested a special sign-up for the uninsured who will all be hit with a $325 fine or two percent of their income (whichever is higher) for failure to enroll in 2015. In 2016, the Obamacare tax penalty will be an average $1,100, reports the Associated Press. For 2014, the Obamacare tax was $95 or one percent of income.
“Open enrollment period ended before many Americans filed their taxes,” the three lawmakers said in a statement. “Without a special enrollment period, many people (who will be paying fines) will not have another opportunity to get health coverage this year.”
The lawmakers’ pleas come on the heels of a devastating New York Times article published last week titled, “Insured, but Not Covered,” which revealed that many Obamacare customers are hitting the harsh wall of reality about how expensive and flimsy their Obamacare plans truly are. As the Times notes, “A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that 46 percent of Americans said they had trouble affording health care, up 10 percentage points in just one year.”
Obamacare remains deeply unpopular. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, just 39% of Americans support Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
Late last month, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the provisions within Obamacare expanding access to insurance coverage would cost 20% less than the agency estimated in 2010, when the law passed.
The White House was ecstatic. “The estimates released today by CBO once again confirm the progress we’ve made,” said deputy press secretary Eric Schultz.
Taxpayers, however, should worry. A closer look at the CBO’s numbers shows that Obamacare is growing much more expensive – and disruptive.
The CBO now expects Obamacare to cover far fewer uninsured than it previously thought. In a March 2011 report, the nonpartisan agency predicted that Obamacare would extend coverage to 34 million uninsured by 2021. It has since downgraded that number to 27 million – and concluded that Obamacare will leave 31 million Americans without insurance.
So the law’s overall price tag has declined only because it’s covering fewer people.
Left unsaid is the fact that Obamacare is set to spend more per person. If the law is not repealed, Obamacare will shell out $7,740 in subsidies for every person who gains coverage in 2021. That’s a 7% increase over the agency’s per-person estimate in 2011.
The CBO now projects that the law will cost nearly $2 trillion over the next ten years. Obamacare’s subsidies alone will cost $1.1 trillion. In 2010, the agency put the cost of the entire law at $940 billion over its first decade.
Obamacare hasn’t just failed to expand coverage as projected – it’s caused more people to lose their insurance than its architects intended. The CBO now estimates that 10 million people will lose their employer-provided health benefits by 2021. That’s a tenfold increase over the agency’s 2011 projections.
Indeed, the CBO originally predicted that Obamacare would boost employer-based health coverage by several million from 2011 to 2015.
This latest round of CBO projections could look downright rosy if health costs rise in the future.
That seems likely. National health spending shot up 5.6% last year. The agency predicts that it will climb 6% a year for the foreseeable future. That’s a 50% uptick from the average annual health inflation rate over the past six years.
Meanwhile, by offering subsidies for the purchase of insurance on state or federal exchanges, Obamacare will increase demand for it. That will fuel further price inflation.
Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber admitted as much in a January 2014 interview, saying, “The law isn’t designed to save money. It’s designed to improve health, and that’s going to cost money.” The president, of course, promised otherwise.
The law’s costs could rise even faster if companies dodge the employer mandate, which require firms with at least 100 full-time employees to offer health plans or pay a fine starting this year. Those with at least 50 full-timers must do the same beginning in 2016.
Employers might cut back on their workers’ hours so that they’re considered part-time — or stop hiring workers. Some firms may dump their health plans altogether, thanks to Obamacare’s many other cost-inflating mandates and regulations. The fine may be cheaper than the cost of coverage.
That may be good for their bottom line. But workers would suddenly have to pay for their own coverage on the exchanges. Taxpayers would have to pick up a share of the tab for those that qualify for subsidies.
These possibilities are becoming reality. A recent survey of small companies in southwestern Michigan found that one-quarter planned to drop their health plans this year because of Obamacare. Another quarter expect to do so next year.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, another of Obamacare’s architects, believes these mass exoduses will continue. He predicts that Obamacare will bring about “the end of employer-sponsored insurance.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. Our healthcare system can deliver better quality care at lower cost – but only if the federal government repeals the Affordable Care Act and replaces it with a healthcare law based on market-friendly reforms.
Consider the market for senior care – dominated, of course, by Medicare. Lawmakers should replace the current, open-ended, fee-for-service system with means-tested vouchers available to beneficiaries at age 67, just as Social Security is. Under such a system, seniors would be able to pick from a variety of privately administered health plans. Competition can do the job of reducing costs and improving quality.
It’s already done so in the Medicare Part D drug benefit, which allows seniors to choose from among prescription drug plans offered by competing insurance companies. According to the CBO, Part D’s cost between 2004 and 2013 was 45% lower than the agency predicted at the outset.
Lawmakers should adopt a similar approach to reforming Medicaid, the joint state-federal health plan for the poor. A fixed block grant for each state – and private options for Medicaid enrollees – would empower states to experiment with their programs to determine how to deliver the best care at the lowest cost.
There’s evidence that this approach can save money and improve care. In 2011, Oregon convinced the Obama administration to give it a block grant of sorts. The results have been impressive. Emergency-room visits declined 17%. From 2011 to 2014, costs fell 19%.
If Oregon’s approach were adopted nationwide, Medicaid spending could decline by more than $900 billion over the next decade, according to CMS.
Obamacare is failing to reduce our nation’s health costs and to expand access to insurance as promised. Congress’s own budget watchdog now admits as much.
Congressional Republicans have finally begun to do something about that reality, with their vote to repeal Obamacare last week and their reinvigorated drive to formulate a replacement. They must complete the job.
The bill is coming due, literally, for the Obama administration over its attempts to force companies to comply with the HHS mandate, that compels them to pay for drugs for their employees that can cause abortions.
The pro-life legal group ADF obtained a settlement in federal court Friday that requires the Obama administration to pay an agreed-upon amount of $570,000 to ADF and allied attorneys who won a lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court against the abortion-pill mandate in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell.
Conestoga Wood is one of the companies that challenged the abortion mandate in court and the high court eventually sided with them and Hobby Lobby, the most prominent firm taking on the Obama mandate.
“The government does a serious disservice to taxpayers when it pursues unjust laws that force many of them to defend their constitutionally protected freedoms,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman told LifeNews.com. “While this case is finally over, many others remain. We hope the administration will stop defending its indefensible abortion-pill mandate and end its waste of taxpayer dollars on a fruitless quest to force people to give up their freedom to live and work according to their beliefs.”
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent Conestoga Wood Specialties and the Hahn family, Mennonite cabinetmakers in Pennsylvania who appealed to the nation’s high court after a divided federal appellate court ruled against them. The Supreme Court eventually sided with the company.
“The cost of religious freedom for the Hahn family and many other job creators across the country who face this mandate is severe,” added Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “A family should not face massive fines and lawsuits just because they want to earn a living consistent with their faith.”
The mandate could have cost the family nearly $3 million per month in fines if it doesn’t agree to live contrary to its Christian convictions. It forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy penalties by the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies if the mandate’s requirements aren’t met.
Conestoga Wood Specialties owners Norman Hahn, Elizabeth Hahn, Norman Lemar Hahn, Anthony H. Hahn, and Kevin Hahn desire to run their company, a wholesale manufacturer of custom wood cabinet parts, in a manner that reflects their Christian beliefs, including their belief that God requires respect for the sanctity of human life.