Tag Archives: HHS

Obamacare: Enter the Finger Pointing

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obamacare_logo_1It may not be a surprise that Republicans, and some Democrats, are now calling for the resignation or termination of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, given the absolute calamity that is the HealthCare.gov launch. But is the call for her head really fair? Probably not.

It is probably fair to say that no unelected bureaucrat, regardless of party or experience, could possibly keep HHS running smoothly. Forget that half a billion dollars were thrown at building a website – quite possibly the most expensive website launch in the history of the internet – over three years, the idea of a federal bureaucracy delivering a consumer ready product over any amount of time and expense is laughable.

Over the years much has been made of the headaches and hassles involved at the DMV. The DMV is such an easy target it has become a joke frequented by mediocre comedians. And yet, after decades and untold expense, the DMV lines are just as long or longer, and the service is just as bad.

Put frankly, Sebelius was given a task no government bureaucrat could have accomplished. In fact, many don’t realize HHS has the greatest cut of the budgetary pie, consisting of $941 billion, or roughly 25% of the total federal budget. Could anyone, anywhere, oversee the proper spending and allocation of such a huge amount of money? Could anyone possibly claim they not only could ensure the money was spent wisely, but that the services provided would be of the top quality?

If launching a website is too monumental a task for the all-powerful federal government, what will we get from the “Independent Payment Advisory Board” (IPAB)? This was the “death panel” Sarah Palin made so famous. IPAB submits “recommendations” to Congress which automatically take effect unless a supermajority can override them. Which is to say, 15 unelected directors will decide what services should be cut, suspended or done away with. Those decisions, by the way, are exempted from administrative or judicial review.

HealthCare.gov isn’t a disaster because Secretary Sebelius is incompetent, though she very well may be, but because this is the inevitable results of big government. The members of Congress now demanding Sebelius’ head have found a handy scapegoat, but a disingenuous one. If the GOP has any sense left at all, they will hold up HealthCare.gov as a perfect example, a living example, of exactly why big government can never work. Fingers should be pointed for this debacle, but they should be pointed at the very people who brought us Obamacare: the Democrats in Congress and President Obama.

USCCB Responds to Inaccurate Statement of Fact on HHS Mandate Made During Vice Presidential Debate

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement, October 12. Full text follows:

Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:

 

    “With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution-Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital-none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

 

This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

HHS has proposed an additional “accommodation” for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as “non-exempt.” That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation “to pay for contraception” and “to be a vehicle to get contraception.” They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.

USCCB continues to urge HHS, in the strongest possible terms, actually to eliminate the various infringements on religious freedom imposed by the mandate.

For more details, please see USCCB’s regulatory comments filed on May 15 regarding the proposed “accommodation”: www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/rulemaking/upload/comments-on-advance-notice-of-proposed-rulemaking-on-preventive-services-12-05-15.pdf

Did Obama Gut Welfare Reform?

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Last Thursday, the Obama Administration issued a memo that stated that it would issue waivers to states on work requirements for participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families act (TANF).

President Clinton signed “Welfare Reform” into law in 1996 as part of one of the most bi-partisan actions in recent government history. The reform replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program, and the Emergency Assistance (EA) program with TANF as the nation’s welfare program. The lynch pin in TANF is the work requirement which requires recipients to be working or engaged in work-related activities in order to continue to receive welfare assistance from tax payers. President Obama’s memo would grant waivers to states so that the definition of work can be watered down.

What is the Welfare “Work Requirement”

According to a Department of Health and Human services website, the work requirement is as follows:

  • With few exceptions, recipients must work as soon as they are job-ready or no later than two years after coming on assistance.
  • To count toward a State’s work participation rate, single parents must participate in work activities for an average of 30 hours per week, or an average of 20 hours per week if they have a child under age six.  Two-parent families must participate in work activities for an average of 35 hours a week or, if they receive Federal child care assistance, 55 hours a week.
  • Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of a family’s benefits.
  • States cannot penalize single parents with a child under six for failing to meet work requirements if they cannot find adequate child care.
  • States must engage a certain percentage of all families and of two-parent families in work activities or face financial penalty.  These required State work participation rates are 50 percent overall and 90 percent for two-parent families; however, States can reduce the targets they must meet with a caseload reduction credit.  For every percentage point a State reduces its caseload below its FY 2005 level (without restricting eligibility), the credit reduces the States target  participation rate by one percentage point.

As it stands, recipients could be on welfare for up to two years without a job or satisfactory “work participation”. After the two year maximum delay, they would have to participate in a work-related activity to avoid a reduction or termination of the payout.  The activities that count towards work are as fair as can be expected and aren’t simply holding a job. As HHS’s website summarizes, satisfactory activities include:

Work Activities – Activities that count toward a State’s participation rates are (some restrictions may apply):

  • unsubsidized or subsidized employment
  • work experience
  • on-the-job training
  • job search and job readiness assistance – not to exceed 6 weeks in a 12-month period and no more than 4 consecutive weeks (but up to 12 weeks if a State meets certain conditions)
  • community service
  • vocational educational training – not to exceed 12 months
  • job skills training related to work
  • education directly related to employment
  • satisfactory secondary school attendance
  • providing child care services to individuals who are participating in community service.

The Memo that Guts Welfare Reform

Last week, the administration directed HHS to offer waivers that would allow states to redefine what constitutes work as was the case prior to 1996. Before TANF, states included things such as hula dancing and attendance of weight watchers programs as activities that would meet the requirements in order to receive welfare payouts.

The Fallout

Commonly referred to as an “80% issue”, Welfare Reform is incredibly popular as it appeals to Americans’ sense of fairness. Citizens pay taxes from their hard-earned income and would expect that anyone receiving a portion of those taxes does something productive to deserve the assistance. America does not want to pay people to go to dancing lessons or diet classes.

Mitt Romney’s campaign released an ad calling Obama’s memo an effort to “gut Welfare reform”. The former governor has also commented that he believes that is exactly what the administration’s recent actions has done. In response, the Obama administration hurriedly added a 20% work increase requirement that would force states to report a 20% rise in Welfare work participation in order to continue receiving their block grants from the federal government.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney came out to defend the administration’s actions against the Romney attacks citing the 20% work rule as proof that the administration isn’t gutting the work requirement. Saying that the claims are a “drastic distortion” of the facts, Carney did his level-best to turn Romney’s criticism of the President into a positive for the administration.

A train of Democrat pundits have come out slamming the Romney campaign claims in an effort to help the President escape a growing storm of voter discontent with Obama’s actions on welfare.

The Problem with the 20% Work Increase Requirement

By requiring states to increase Welfare work participation by 20% and removing the federal definition of what constitutes work, the administration is encouraging states to add non-work activities so they can hit the increased target. Getting 20% more recipients to perform activities will require states to get creative in order to receive their share of more than $16 Billion in federal subsidies. One can expect art classes, group therapy and workouts at the gym to be included before long.

The Legality of Obama’s actions

Section 1115 of  TANF does give the Secretary of Health and Human Services the ability to grant waivers to states for requirements in the law. The hitch is that HHS may only waive requirements listed in section 1115, which the work requirement is not. The work requirement and definitions are listed in section 407 which means that waivers may not be granted under the section 1115 authority.  The administration contends that since the work reporting requirements are listed in 1115, that also gives authority over the section 407 work provision. These requirements were put in a separate section specifically to prevent this kind of maneuvering.

What this all means

By dictatorial edict, President Obama has illegally gutted President Clinton’s Welfare Reform. He hasn’t directly redefined the work requirements, but by granting the states waivers and demanding higher participation, he has guaranteed that states will game the system and individually weaken existing work requirements directly in contradiction to the intent of the law.

Standing With Catholics

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Freedom of Religion: A constitutionally guaranteed right provided in the First Amendment.

This is a unique time in American history. Secularism is on the rise and for too long church leaders have taken a back seat and allowed it to happen.  This year may be the line in the sand. Or as Bishop Lori says:

“We have gathered on the eve of the feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, martyrs who laid down their lives rather than violate their consciences or their sacred principles. Their courageous witness of faith continues to stir the minds and hearts of people yearning for authentic freedom, and specifically, for religious freedom . . . . just as it inspired those who came to Maryland a century later in 1634,seeking not only to worship God freely but indeed to practice their faith publicly.”

This week began A Fortnight For Freedom in the Catholic Church.  A time for Catholics to learn about their religious freedoms and a time for them to speak publicly and not allow the government to force them to betray their religion and principles.

At the same time, other churches are standing with the Catholics. A letter, signed by more than 20 religious leaders, appeals to the Department of Health and Human Services to repeal their mandate regarding contraception. The letter also asks Americans to unite so that no one religion is penalized for refusing to go against its beliefs. “No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice.” Read Letter

The video below from the president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Rev. Dr. Harrison is a brief explanation about the letter. He shares the united agreement by many churches how important it is that all religions are allowed to provide services and care in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Martyrs, like Thomas More and John Fisher, paid with their lives when standing on their sacred principles. At the very least we should be willing to speak in support of the Catholics. Maybe our individual beliefs are not in jeopardy at this moment, but if something should change it would be of great comfort to know that other religions are willing to stand with us. Share this with your friends. Stand with Catholics.

Sebelius Gets Education on the Constitution but Left Might Get a Weapon

The First Amendment is bandied about more often than just about any of the others, and it got a full work-out thanks to Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) during his grilling of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. It definitely is worth viewing, even if you’ve seen it before:

While that was undoubtedly painful for Sebelius, in theory, it may have opened a whole new can of worms. By taking it from the purely legal standpoint, Gowdy may have inadvertently opened an opportunity for the left on other issues, including abortion. Yes, there are religions out there that do not have strict restrictions against abortion, Judaism included. In theory, the left could use the same balancing act Gowdy used to justify preventing legislation against abortion, at least in the circumstances permitted by given religions.

Now, before anyone starts frothing at the mouth, that is an unlikely result of this little moment, if for no other reason, the left-wing would have to find people that observe those faiths to come forward and file lawsuits. That’s unlikely, of course.

But, the hearing did cause me to think yet again about the economic end of this perennial debate. Yet again, I am wondering about the feasibility of the I.R.S. adding a checkbox to tax forms that could settle it once and for all. If taxpayers could just tell the government whether or not they were willing to have their tax dollars be applied to public funds for contraception and/or abortion, then the crusade to end all abortions should be considered a purely religious movement. Arguably, it would be rendered moot, at least on the Federal level.

If no one is paying for something that they disagree with based on religious belief, then the government is not preventing anyone from observing their faith. Remember, the rights granted by the Bill of Rights end where the rights of another individual begin. That’s why those of us from the generally Libertarian neck of the woods don’t tend to join in social conservative crusades. It’s none of our business. It shouldn’t be the business of government. Gowdy had it right when he pointed out that Sebelius was wrong when she pushed the mandate for coverage of contraceptives. While what I’ve said here might annoy some social conservatives, keep in mind that I’m suggesting that we take Gowdy’s principle a step farther, and include individuals, not just religious institutions. If you personally do not believe it is moral to have contraceptives, your hard-earned money should not pay for it, ever. If you personally do not believe that abortion is acceptable for anyone, the same applies. But, that should be the extent of your rights. You do not have the right to force those that disagree with your belief system to comply with it. Fairly simple, so it’s highly unlikely it would work in this country. After all, we love having a government that could mess up a one man parade.

Crossposted at Goldwater Gal

Obamacare CLASS-less


The Obama administration is giving up on a controversial piece of the healthcare reform law. CLASS – Community Living Assistance Services and Supports, as an integral part of Obamacare, was supposed to provide about 40% of the savings as a result of health-care reform. Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) estimates projected $210 billion in total deficit reduction from the healthcare law, $86 billion of which would have come from CLASS.

CLASS was canceled by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after a 19-month effort to find a way to make it financially viable and self-sustainable. “We won’t be working further to implement the CLASS Act … We don’t see a path forward to be able to do that,” said Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee. CLASS is the largest piece of healthcare reform to be terminated, and is the first to collapse entirely on its own. HHS officials acknowledged that CLASS failed because it was too flawed to salvage. In a Friday afternoon letter to Congress, Sebelius wrote, “Despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation at this time.” Congress specified that the HHS secretary had to determine that the program would be sustainable for 75 years. HHS said a detailed analysis of the CLASS program showed that it simply couldn’t be made to work. Premiums would have been too high to attract enough interest to keep the program afloat. The White House said the decision to cancel CLASS does not reflect problems with other parts of healthcare reform.

Republicans said the CLASS program won’t be the last piece of healthcare reform to fail. “This announcement is a canary in a coal mine,” Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said in a statement. “Today’s abandonment of the program is just the latest evidence demonstrating ObamaCare’s devastating effects and ill-conceived policies. What will be next?” Representative Paul Ryan (R-IN), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said the administration finally “surrendered to reality.” “We have always known that this program was a naked scam – cooking the books trying to cover up the unsustainable cost of Washington Democrats’ government takeover of health care,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

BTW, CLASS was a pet project of the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

HHS announces proposed changes to HIPAA Privacy Rule

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is proposing changes to HIPAA privacy rules.

This proposed rule represents an important step in our continued efforts to promote accountability across the health care system, ensuring that providers properly safeguard private health information. We need to protect peoples’ rights so that they know how their health information has been used or disclosed.

While covered entities are currently required to track electronic accesses of health care records, they are not currently required to provide a report upon request. There is some odd wording in the announcement from HHS  as it uses people instead of patients or guardians, “People would obtain this information by requesting an access report, which would document the particular persons who electronically accessed and viewed their protected health information.”  It is unclear after reading the rule, which “people” will be allowed to request and review this information.

The rule is also conflicting on which type of health record access is reportable. While the announcement and early clauses discuss electronic access to electronic records, this clause mentions hard copy.

The right to an accounting of disclosures would encompass disclosures of both hard copy and electronic protected health information that is maintained in a designated record set. It would cover a three-year period, and would require a covered entity and its business associates to account for the disclosures of protected health information that we believe are of most interest to individuals.

This could complicate an earlier premise in the rule that it would be of low-impact to involved entities.

We believe that these changes to the accounting requirements will provide information of value to individuals while placing a reasonable burden on covered entities and business associates.

The full proposed rule can be viewed at http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/05/31/2011-13297/hipaa-privacy-rule-accounting-of-disclosures-under-the-health-information-technology-for-economic#p-3.