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BARRASSO: The healing powers of pencil pushers

Doctors must give way to tax men under Obamacare

- - Thursday, May 23, 2013

Anger at the Internal Revenue Service's abuse of power is reaching an all-time high across the country.

Americans are justifiably outraged that the IRS has chosen to play favorites for political reasons. Citizens will be even more troubled when they learn how involved the agency will soon be in their health care choices.

Over the next several months, the IRS will take over as the chief enforcer of much of President Obama's health care law. The agency has a role in 47 provisions of the law, including determining whose insurance meets Obamacare requirements and who qualifies for a tax credit.

People will soon be required to report their health insurance information on their tax forms each year. The IRS will collect penalties from those who don't have government-approved insurance. It will confiscate tax refunds from anyone who doesn't comply with the unpopular mandates. This requires a much larger IRS.

The administration's latest budget requested an increase of $440 million to expand the IRS. The money would pay for an additional 2,000 new agents and bureaucrats to implement the law and investigate taxpayers. It's been estimated that the agency may grow by as many as 15,000 employees to scrutinize Americans' health care coverage.

People have long been suspicious of the IRS. The agency's shameful behavior has shattered whatever trust remained.

Now, some of the same bureaucrats involved in the secret IRS scandal will be enforcing the health care law. The official who led the office of tax-exempt organizations when agents there began targeting people for political reasons was later promoted to head the IRS office in charge of Obamacare implementation. From what we've seen so far, she certainly should not have been rewarded with more power.

As part of its investigation, Congress needs to find out how high the abuse of power went. Did IRS supervisors instruct the staff to go after conservatives? Did anyone outside the agency know? At the very least, who set the tone that this kind of behavior was OK?

IRS involvement in American health care goes way beyond what most people realize. In order to even find out who is eligible to apply to buy Obamacare insurance through the exchanges, Americans will have to account for every source of income, including wages, tips, alimony and pensions. They'll need to pull out old tax returns, pay stubs, student-loan receipts and other records. The application can be as complicated as filling out a tax return.

Then, the government will scrutinize Americans' answers against databases at the IRS, Social Security, consumer credit agencies and even the Department of Homeland Security. Mistakes will be punishable as criminal offenses.

Americans shouldn't have to hire an accountant to handle their health insurance. With the president's law, we're heading in that direction.

Americans will have to file other complicated forms to prove to the IRS that they actually have Washington-approved insurance. Those will require people to give the IRS even more personal information. Under Obamacare, the power of the IRS expands dramatically. The agency should have less power, not more.

If the president won't take concrete steps to stop IRS overreach, Congress must. That includes taking away the agency's authority over Americans' health insurance.

As a physician, I know that nothing should come between families and their doctors — not insurance companies, not the government, and certainly not the IRS.

We need to make health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. We need a health care system in our country where patients spend more time with their health care provider, not their accountant.

The president's health care law provided for thousands of new IRS agents to investigate Americans, but it failed to deal with the shortage of nurses and doctors to actually take care of people.

If Mr. Obama is truly outraged by the abuses by his IRS, he won't just pay lip service to the problem. He will work with Republicans to get this dysfunctional agency out of the business of investigating Americans' heath care choices.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a physician, is chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.