CHRIS MATTHEWS & ANDREA MITCHELL
JAKE TAPPER & WOLF BLITZER
BRIAN WILLIAMS & RICHARD ENGEL
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
A protest by about 300,000 Ukrainians angered by their government’s decision to freeze integration with the West turned violent Sunday, when a group of demonstrators besieged the president’s office and police drove them back with truncheons, tear gas and flash grenades. Dozens of people were injured.
The mass rally in central Kiev defied a government ban on protests on Independence Square, in the biggest show of anger over President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a political and economic agreement with the European Union.
The protesters also were infuriated by the violent dispersal of a small, opposition rally two nights before.
While opposition leaders called for a nationwide strike and prolonged peaceful street protests to demand that the government resign, several thousand people broke away and marched to Yanukovych’s nearby office.
A few hundred of them, wearing masks, threw rocks and other objects at police and attempted to break through the police lines with a front loader. After several hours of clashes, riot police used force to push them back.
Dozens of people with what appeared to be head injuries were taken away by ambulance. Several journalists, including some beaten by police, were injured in the clashes.
Opposition leaders denounced the clashes as a provocation aimed at discrediting the peaceful demonstration and charged that the people who incited the storming of the presidential office were government-hired thugs.
Several opposition leaders, including world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, walked over to Yanukovych’s office to urge protesters to return to Independence Square. Order appeared to have been restored by Sunday night, with rows of riot police standing guard behind metal fences.
Some protesters then headed to Yanukovych’s residence outside Kiev, but their cars were stopped by police.
Speaking before the vast crowds on Independence Square from the roof of a bus, the opposition leaders demanded that Yanukovych and his government resign.
“Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration, it’s not a reaction. It’s a revolution,” said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader.
Chants of “revolution” resounded across a sea of yellow and blue Ukrainian and EU flags on the square, where the government had prohibited rallies starting Sunday. Thousands of protesters remained late into the evening and some were preparing to spend the night on the square.
The demonstration was by far the largest since the protests began more than a week ago and it carried echoes of the 2004 Orange Revolution, when tens of thousands came to the square nightly for weeks and set up a tent camp along the main street leading to the square.
The opposition leaders urged Ukrainians from all over the country to join the protests in the capital.
“Our future is being decided here in Kiev,” Klitschko said.
Ukrainian lawmakers meet Monday for consultations and planned to hold a parliament session Tuesday. The opposition is hoping to muster enough votes to oust Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s Cabinet after several lawmakers quit Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in protest.
The U.S. Embassy issued a joint statement from U.S. and EU ambassadors encouraging Ukrainians to resolve their differences peacefully and urging “all stakeholders in the political process to establish immediate dialogue to facilitate a mutually acceptable resolution to the current discord.”
Protests have been held daily in Kiev since Yanukovych backed away from an agreement that would have established free trade and deepened political cooperation between Ukraine and the EU. He justified the decision by saying that Ukraine couldn’t afford to break trade ties with Russia.
The EU agreement was to have been signed Friday and since then the protests have gained strength.
“We are furious,” said 62-year-old retired businessman Mykola Sapronov, who was among the protesters Sunday. “The leaders must resign. We want Europe and freedom.”
As the demonstrators approached Independence Square and swept away metal barriers from around a large Christmas tree set up in the center, all police left the square. About a dozen people then climbed the tree to hang EU and Ukrainian flags from its branches.
Several hundred demonstrators never made it to the square. Along the way they burst into the Kiev city administration building and occupied it, in defiance of police, who tried unsuccessfully to drive them away by using tear gas.
The EU agreement had been eagerly anticipated by Ukrainians who want their country of 45 million people to break out of Moscow’s orbit. Opinion surveys in recent months showed about 45 percent of Ukrainians supporting closer integration with the EU and a third or less favoring closer ties with Russia.
Moscow tried to block the deal with the EU by banning some Ukrainian imports and threatening more trade sanctions. A 2009 dispute between Kiev and Moscow on gas prices resulted in a three-week cutoff of gas to Ukraine.
Yanukovych was traveling to China for a state visit this week. Afterward, the president planned to visit Russia and reach agreement on normalizing trade relations, Azarov said Sunday.
For Yanukovych, memories of the Orange Revolution are still raw.
Those protests forced the annulment of a fraud-tainted presidential election in which he was shown to have won the most votes. A rerun of the election was ordered, and he lost to Western-leaning reformist Viktor Yushchenko.
Yanukovych was elected president five years later, narrowly defeating then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the leading figure of the Orange Revolution.
Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in 2011 for abuse of office, a case that the West has widely criticized as political revenge. The EU had set Tymoshenko’s release, or at least her freedom to go to Germany for treatment of a severe back problem, as a key criterion for signing the association pact with Ukraine.
The prospect of freeing his archenemy was deeply unattractive to Yanukovych, who comes up for re-election in early 2015.
We were the first to report on how the NBC story exposing the Obama administration knowledge of cancellations was pulled, then edited, then edited again.
There was a critical paragraph that was edited out, but then added back in after a furor.
What was the provision that was deleted and then added back?
None of this should come as a shock to the Obama administration. The law states that policies in effect as of March 23, 2010 will be “grandfathered,” meaning consumers can keep those policies even though they don’t meet requirements of the new health care law. But the Department of Health and Human Services then wrote regulations that narrowed that provision, by saying that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date — the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example — the policy would not be grandfathered.
Why is this critical, and why was it edited?
Because that means the law doesn’t actually dictate the cancellation of the policies, the cancellations are dictated by the HHS regulations, narrowing the law.
Regulations are completely and utterly within the power and control of HHS, Obama and the executive branch. What that means is they could change it if they wanted to, and that it was completely their choice to do this, despite Obama lying about it.
They dictated these cancellations because they want to drive people into the exchanges, because it is the only possible way to monetarily sustain the system, or it would collapse under its own weight.
So while Obama is lying to people, he is completely dictating the cancellations through his administration.
This is the twisted nature of the President we have.
So, tell me again about the wonders of Hope and Change there comrade.
Pentagon personnel responded to Breitbart News’ report about court-martialing service members who share their faith in the military, which the Pentagon confirmed on May 1, and the Air Force on May 2 separately confirmed a second time.
Now the Pentagon claims the opposite. But these new statements instead only compound the problem, as the Pentagon’s new definitions for terms squarely contradict what the dictionary says those terms mean. All this has taken place as the first flag officer in the military has stepped forward to defy the unconstitutional policy.
In an official statement yesterday, Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Defense Press Office, responded to Breitbart News’ reports by saying, “Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).”
Unfortunately for the Obama administration’s leaders in the Pentagon, those definitions are absurdly false, and only confirm a central concern in the earlier columns. These definitions of evangelizing and proselytizing are contradicted by (1) general dictionaries, (2) legal dictionaries, and (3) theological dictionaries. We have not located any dictionary that supports the Pentagon’s novel and unprecedented definitions for these well-known words.
Evidently it all depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is, which is a debate the country thought was resolved in 2000. Even so, when trying to say the press is wrong, don’t do it by inventing new definitions that anyone with a sixth-grade education and access to a dictionary can confirm are utterly false.
The words “evangelize” and “proselytize” have identical meanings when referring to Christians. So to make proselyting illegal is to make evangelizing illegal.
The dictionary defines “evangelize” as “to convert to Christianity,” or “to preach the [Christian] gospel.” Likewise, the dictionary defines “proselytize” as “to convert or attempt to convert.” They both mean sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Two things to note. First, “evangelizing” means to try to persuade your listener to become a Christian, which the Pentagon just reaffirmed for the second time in two days is forbidden in the military. Second, contrary to the Obama-Holder DoD’s definition, “proselytizing” carries no connotation whatsoever of “force,” or “intrusive attempts” to do anything.
Everyone can agree that no military commander should use his authority to coerce a subordinate to adopt religious views that violate the subordinate’s conscience. But that suggestion is a strawman argument, as “proselytizing” is something entirely different.
Not only that, but this suggestion is further confirmed as false because then our earlier reports discussing chaplains would be irrelevant. An infantry sergeant answers to an infantry lieutenant, who answers to an infantry captain, and so on up to the general commanding the infantry division.
So why was the Washington Post reporting that the Pentagon’s meeting(s) with Weinstein discussed chaplains being court martialed (that is – criminally prosecuted under military law) for sharing the gospel with a fellow service-member? The chaplain is not in the chain of command. The chaplain has no authority with which to coerce the other service member.
Instead, it looks like the Obama-Hagel administration was caught red-handed contemplating policies that violate the rights of American service members, and they are literally attempting to rewrite the dictionary through a press release to offer a disingenuous explanation of why things are not as disturbing as they appear.
A second problem for the Obama administration is this proposed new rule makes it illegal for millions of Americans to serve in the military in a manner consistent with their faith. Millions of Americans who call themselves Christians – including Evangelicals, devout Catholics, and observant Mormons – believe they are required by Matthew 28 in the Bible to share the gospel with other people.
This is to be done respectfully and peacefully, at appropriate times and in an appropriate manner, but it must be done when such opportunities present themselves. To say that sharing the gospel is a crime under military law (as we reported, Weinstein in his own words calls it an act of “treason” that should be “punished” – right after calling those who do so “monsters” and “enemies” of the Constitution), is to say that tens of millions of Americans are not allowed to serve in our military. And those already serving could be prosecuted for a crime and perhaps expelled from the military.
The third problem is that it is unconstitutional. When someone joins the military their First Amendment rights are diminished, but they are not eradicated. A solider cannot write an op-ed criticizing the Commander-in-Chief, but he can live and share his faith with others. Evangelizing does not disrupt discipline and good order in the military, and therefore the Constitution does not permit the military to forbid it.
Military officers take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” There are honorable Christian service members who will not in good conscience be able to abide by this unconstitutional and unconscionable decree.
And this week it began. Rear Adm. William D. Lee of the Coast Guard said that he will “defy any efforts to stop military personnel from openly sharing their Christian faith.” Told that sharing the gospel is crossing the line, Lee said, “I’m so glad we’ve crossed that line so many times.” He then pledged to exercise his “right under the Constitution to tell a young man that there is hope.”
The U.S. military is the most noble and honorable institution in America. Officers like Rear Adm. Lee are an essential part of making it so. Congress should step forward to enact whatever legislation is needed to safeguard their rights, as they continue to protect ours.