The Morning Jolt

One of Obamacare’s Biggest Supporters Finds It Unworkable, Pulls Out

Dear health-insurance companies . . . get yourself out of this mess. We tried to stop you from going down this path, and you didn’t listen.

They fought Obamacare skeptics, and paid a lot of money to do it.

Despite the worst recession since World War II, businesses spent more than $1 billion lobbying on health reform in 2009, a sharp increase from 2008.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield led the league in lobbyist spending, shelling out $15.13 million in 2009, up more than 25 percent from 2008. AHIP shelled out another $8.85 million, while United Health Group added $4.86 million, and Aetna Inc. spent $2.84 million.

One of their top guys is actually running administration of Obamacare these days:

The UnitedHealth Group Inc. executive whose Optum division helped states and the federal government fix Obamacare health exchanges will become second-in-command at the agency that runs the U.S. program.

Andy Slavitt, Optum’s group executive vice president, was named principal deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, U.S. officials said. The company he comes from, UnitedHealth, is the nation’s largest health insurer.

The ties between UnitedHealth Group and the Obama administration run deep:

Anthony Welters, a big donor to and campaign bundler for Obama, as well as a regular White House guest, is the Executive Vice President of the giant insurance company UnitedHealth Group. According to proxy statements filed for the 2012 fiscal year, Mr. Welters made $7,411,084 in total compensation. As part of his duties, he serves as the Chief Executive Officer and President of AmeriChoice Corporation, which he had led when the privately held Medicaid services provider was sold to UnitedHealth Group in 2002. As discussed below, AmeriChoice and its predecessor company under Welters’ leadership has had its share of legal challenges.

Welters and his wife have bundled hundreds of thousands of dollars of contributions for Obama’s campaign coffers and inauguration festivities, as well as making their own large donations to Obama and other Democrats. His company UnitedHealth Group spent millions of dollars lobbying for Obamacare. All these investments are paying off big-time.

United Health Group owns the software company that built a critical component of the Obamacare website, and which has now been called in to serve as the new general contractor in charge of fixing the beleaguered site. The UnitedHealth Group subsidiary, Quality Software Services Inc. (QSSI), has already been paid an estimated $150 million, with millions more to come as it bills the taxpayers for remedial and general contractor services.

In other words, there are few institutions in the country who have had more influence into the creation of Obamacare and its implementation. UnitedHealth has had access at the highest levels throughout this process. And now?

The nation’s largest health insurer warned Thursday that it may pull out of the Obamacare exchanges after 2016 — forcing more hundreds of millions of people to find other coverage — after low enrollment and high usage cost the company millions of dollars.

The possible move by UnitedHealth Group raises new questions about the viability of President Obama’s signature health law and follows the departure of more than half of the non-profit insurance cooperatives this year. If UnitedHealth drops out, consumers would lose one of the lowest-cost plans available in much of the country, and some wonder how smaller insurers could fill the void.

“If they can’t make money on the exchanges, it seems it would be hard for anyone,” said Katherine Hempstead, who heads the insurance coverage team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Look, up in the sky . . . is that… is that… a death spiral?

More Mexicans Left U.S. than Entered in Last Five Years

Score one for the lousy Obama economy?

There are many reasons for the historic reversal of migration between the U.S. and Mexico, according the Pew Research Center, which announced Thursday that more than 1 million Mexicans headed south to re-establish their lives in the last five years, while only 870,000 migrated north to the United States.

Some have grown tired of living in the shadow of the law, and say border jumping has become too dangerous. Jobs are easier to find now in Mexico, and family ties are powerful.

Hillary: ‘Muslims Have Nothing Whatsoever to Do With Terrorism’

The sentence that stood out to me in Hillary’s speech on how she wants to handle ISIS: “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people, and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”

Come on. Let’s insert all appropriate caveats — America is full of good Muslims; you’re a jerk if you run around harassing the nice Muslim family down the street. The country would be a lesser place without Muhammad Ali, Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, Dr. Oz, astronaut Anousheh Ansarisand, actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, and so on. Donald Trump’s seeming openness to a national registration system of all Muslims is asinine, unconstitutional, and something out of the darkest chapters of history of the most heavy-handed comic-book storylines.

(To Trump’s, er, credit, his answer is so rote and reflexive it’s entirely possible he’s not paying close attention to the question.)

But to contend that Islam has nothing whatsoever to do with a group called “the Islamic State” and that is trying to establish its own hardline brand of sharia law and reestablish a Caliphate . . . really? We’re not allowed to discuss this at all?

Want more of the same? Brendan Bordelon observes how Hillary won’t even correct the most glaring errors of the Obama administration.

“Do you believe that President Obama underestimated ISIS when he called it the JV team?” Zakaria asked.

“I don’t think it’s useful to go back and re-plow old ground,” Clinton said. “I think from the perspective of what they had accomplished at that time, even though they had seized and held territory, the major focus of our government was on trying to remove Assad from power so that there could a be a resolution, a political resolution.”

As Brendan points out, at the time of Obama’s comment, ISIS had taken over Fallujah, Iraq . . . so why would removing Assad spur the administration to consider them JV? Isn’t this a tacit admission that the Obama administration simply wasn’t paying close attention to ISIS at the time?

The Many Accomplishments of William F. Buckley, Both True and Legendary

Last night at the Young Conservatives Coalition’s Buckley Awards, they asked me to say a few words about William F. Buckley.

How do you sum up the life of William F. Buckley?

He worked for the CIA. He was a member of Skull and Bones. He wrote God and Man at Yale at age 26. He founded National Review in 1955 at age 30 — and we’re still going strong 60 years later. He’s mentioned in the novel The Manchurian Candidate. He wrote more than 50 books, including ten spy novels. He was the co-founder of the Conservative Party of New York. He wrote a syndicated column for 46 years. He hosted more than 1400 episodes of the television debate show Firing Line from 1966 to 1999. He got 13 percent of New Yorkers to vote for him for mayor. He threatened to punch Gore Vidal on the face on national television. He served as a delegate to the United Nations. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He sailed his boat Cyrano across the Atlantic.

William F. Buckley was . . . The Most Interesting Man in the World.

You see, long before Dos Equis started their commercials, William F. Buckley was the man. And in the archives of National Review, I found some lesser-known facts about Buckley’s career. And all of these are totally true. (wink) So every time you hear them in a beer commercial, remember, Buckley did it first.

His personality was so magnetic, he couldn’t carry credit cards.

His charm was so contagious, it was studied by the CDC.

He received a perfect score . . . on a Rorschach test.

Even his enemies listed him as their emergency contact number.

He once slammed a revolving door.

The police often questioned him . . . just because they found him fascinating.

He could speak French . . . in Russian.

He once gambled with Mullah Omar . . . and won his eye.

He once made a Turkducken. It was a duck, stuffed inside a chicken, stuffed inside a turkey, stuff back inside the original duck.

Stay athwart, my friends.

One last note: The actor who plays “The Most Interesting Man in the World” in the commercials, Jonathan Goldsmith, almost didn’t get the part. The casting director initially thought he was too old, and then his agent responded to the assessment, “How can the Most Interesting Man in the World . . . be young?”  A thought like that makes getting older a little easier to accept.

ADDENDA: After a few weeks of travel and other interruptions, my pop-culture podcast with Mickey White is back, tackling what we choose to watch when the news is dire; my high-stakes assessment of the new Peanuts movie; Mickey’s bureaucratic nightmare for the simple, generous goal of adopting a shelter dog; and what, if anything, can be learned from the slow-motion full-spectrum meltdown of Charlie Sheen.

Oh, and of course, nag, nag, nag . . .


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