Senator Baucus Denies Reading the Obamacare Bill

by John R. Graham

I doubt that it surprises anyone that Sen. Max Baucus did not read the Obamacare bill that he navigated through the Senate, but we should all be surprised that he has no shame in admitting it in a town-hall meeting that he recently hosted with the U.S. secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius. Indeed, he appears proud of the fact that he did not “waste” time reading the bill, but delegated it to “experts.”

Many of the bill’s supporters have been walking away from it lately. An August 19 report on “A Communications Perspective” for Obamacare, prepared for the pro-Obamacare lobbying group Families USA (and leaked to Politico.com), significantly reframes the mission of Obamacare’s supporters:

  • Instead of selling reform, the new goal is to build “resistance to repeal”;
  • The public is “disappointed, anxious, and depressed,” making the environment for Obamacare “challenging”;
  • Claims have to be “small” to be “credible”;
  • Convince citizens that only “the rich” will pay for Obamacare;
  • Finally, do not claim that Obamacare will ‘reduce costs and deficit.”

This is all understandable — but does it explain why Senator Baucus and Secretary Sebelius are preparing to throw their own “expert” staff under the bus? Obamacare’s problems go well beyond “communications.” It is increasingly clear that the “experts” upon whom the politicians relied to write the bill didn’t read or understand it either.

A perfect example is the rule that health plans must offer coverage on a guaranteed-issue basis, without excluding any pre-existing conditions, to dependents up to 19 years old, regardless of whether they have had continuous coverage. That is, if a kid’s parents choose not to enroll him in their company’s insurance plan, and then he gets diagnosed with leukemia or taken to the ER after a motorcycle crash, the plan must then issue coverage without taking the illness or accident into account. Why buy insurance for a child who’s healthy — as most children up to 19 are — when you can buy it at the same price once he actually needs it? This strikes fear into every health insurer and employer.

Health plans might mitigate the risk by limiting the opportunity to enroll to an open-enrollment period, say one month per year. The Department of Health and Human Services published an unofficial “factsheet” on July 27 which asserted that health plans can impose an open-enrollment period on dependents after the provision takes effect on September 23. But HHS did not clarify this possibility when it published its official regulations governing this situation in the Federal Register on June 28.

Needless to say, health-plan lawyers take little comfort from the “factsheet,” and insurers are pricing plans accordingly. The provision is likely the biggest cause of the looming premium hikes that we are going to experience in next year’s renewals. You can find it in Section 10103 (e)(2) of the Obamacare bill.

When Obamacare’s own godfather in the Senate disowns it, and attempts to shift responsibility to his “experts,” we can expect that the rest of the bill is stuffed with many more such landmines.