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STEARNS: Obamacare’s waivers for cronies

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act celebrated its second birthday last week. Of course, don't tell this to the elected officials who crammed the law through Congress on a purely partisan basis two years ago. As the unaffordable costs of Obamacare become undeniable and government control over every aspect of American life becomes unbearable, it's hard to find anyone willing to celebrate the law as it enters the terrible twos. Even President Obama is passing on the opportunity to use his soaring rhetoric to extoll the virtues of the law.

As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, I can say there is good reason for that. Since we obtained the gavels in the 112th Congress, we have discovered that while defenders of the law are scarce, enforcers are not. For the past year, I have looked firsthand into the operations and activities of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) - the bureaucratic behemoth created by Obamacare to implement the law's myriad changes to the health care system.

What we have learned certainly helps explain why the law cannot find anyone willing to celebrate its birthday.

When new coverage requirements were enacted, the cost increases were so great that CCIIO had to create a waiver program to shield nearly 4 million Americans from Obamacare's premium increases and the risk of losing coverage.

Many of those waivers went to the president's union buddies. What if you're a small business that missed the chance to apply for a waiver? Too bad. Rather than face countless stories about how Obamacare was so expensive that waiver after waiver was needed, CCIIO simply extended the waivers until 2014 and shut down the program.

Demonstrating the kind of government efficiency one can expect in the future from Obamacare, CCIIO spent nearly the entire $5 billion budget for the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program in 20 months. The program was supposed to last until 2014.

Where did taxpayers' $5 billion go? Back to the president's union buddies, of course. What is most horrifying about the program is not that the biggest recipient of your tax dollars was the United Auto Workers, but that the program gave money to massively profitable corporations. In fact, our committee uncovered that this Obamacare program gave money to 12 companies in the top 20 of the Forbes 500.

We certainly have not seen evidence that the law is lowering premiums or costs. When we ask what happened to then-candidate Barack Obama's promise to reduce premiums by $2,500 per family, we are told just to be patient and that those savings will materialize in the future once the health insurance exchanges start. I certainly don't feel better when I hear this variation of "trust me" from the bureaucrats and elected officials that got us into this mess in the first place.

CCIIO doesn't seem to be in any hurry to actually establish the health insurance exchanges. Despite countless inquiries from my subcommittee and others, we still don't know when we'll find out what the administration has determined is an "essential health benefit" that must be offered in the exchanges. This lack of certainty has made planning for the future quite difficult.

So let's review. The law is so expensive that millions needed a waiver so they wouldn't face unbearable premium increases or lose their coverage. We are told premium reductions are coming as soon as the exchanges start, but CCIIO won't tell anyone what those exchanges must cover. Meanwhile, the administration that loves to pick winners and losers has been showering waivers and taxpayer money on its union and corporate allies. All this - and the law has yet even to be fully implemented.

Full implementation of the law will only add to the mess. As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported this month, the 10-year gross cost of the law is now $1.79 trillion. That is not a change; it's simply an honest accounting of the law because the budget tricks and gimmicks the Democrats used to advertise the cost as below $1 trillion finally are running out. When the law is fully implemented, the cost surely will soar to well over $2 trillion. Then, according to the CBO, as many as 20 million Americans could possibly lose their current coverage. Remember how many times the president said some variation of "if you like your current health care plan, you can keep it"? There's a reason he doesn't say that anymore.

This is Obamacare. Happy birthday.

Rep. Cliff Stearns is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

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