How does Barack Obama keep from getting ousted by seniors who discover that their Medicare Advantage options for 2013 will be greatly reduced, if not eliminated altogether? After all, ObamaCare’s $500 billion in cuts to the highly successful private-public partnership begin in 2013, assuming that the Supreme Court keeps the law in place this summer. Those cuts are necessary to fund the Medicaid expansion that comes in 2014 to provide funding for coverage of many — but not all — of the currently uninsured. Unfortunately for Obama, seniors would normally discover how badly ObamaCare has damaged their options in mid-October during the Medicare open-enrollment period for supplemental coverage, just a couple of weeks before voters have to go to the polls to select the new President, House, and one-third of the Senate. Since seniors are the most reliable voting bloc in the US, this would prove disastrous for Team Obama.
How will they avoid that kind of electoral disaster? Benjamin Sasse and Charles Hurt warn New York Post readers to expect an October non-surprise, thanks to an $8 billion slush fund that will allow the White House to postpone that day of reckoning for one year:
It’s hard to imagine a bigger electoral disaster for a president than seniors in crucial states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio discovering that he’s taken away their beloved Medicare Advantage just weeks before an election.
This political ticking time bomb could become the biggest “October Surprise” in US political history.
But the administration’s devised a way to postpone the pain one more year, getting Obama past his last election; it plans to spend $8 billion to temporarily restore Medicare Advantage funds so that seniors in key markets don’t lose their trusted insurance program in the middle of Obama’s re-election bid.
The money is to come from funds that Health and Human Services is allowed to use for “demonstration projects.” But to make it legal, HHS has to pretend that it’s doing an “experiment” to study the effect of this money on the insurance market.
That is, to “study” what happens when the government doesn’t change anything but merely continues a program that’s been going on for years.
Obama can temporarily prop up Medicare Advantage long enough to get re-elected by exploiting an obscure bit of federal law. Under a 1967 statute, the HHS secretary can spend money without specific approval by Congress on “experiments” directly aimed at “increasing the efficiency and economy of health services.”
This is what happens when bureaucracies get to spend money without close Congressional oversight. Certainly, the Congress that passed the 1967 statute didn’t foresee that a federal agency could aggregate $8 billion (about $1.24 billion in 1967 dollars, roughly) by itself for “experiments,” but the law along with the massive amounts of money appropriated to HHS makes this possible. The money came from ObamaCare itself, thanks to Democrats who created a structure that allowed HHS to write all of the laws and spend money without much accountability for the way it will be used.
If HHS does do this, though, it will certainly be a demonstration project. Democrats, including Obama, insisted that seniors and the disabled would have no problems with the Medicare Advantage cuts — that their choices would not be constricted in any practical sense, and that the pain would only be felt by the eeeeeeeeeeeevil insurers. Using the slush funds to postpone those changes past the election will demonstrate that they have been lying all along — otherwise, why postpone the cuts? Why not stay on schedule for the Great Leap Forward in American health care?
Update: Uh oh — the GAO just poked the White House and HHS in the eye over the “bonuses”:
In a rebuke to the Obama administration, government auditors are calling for the cancellation of an $8 billion Medicare program that congressional Republicans have criticized as a political ploy.
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says in a report to be released Monday that the $8.3 billion the administration has earmarked for quality bonuses to Medicare Advantage insurance plans would postpone the pain of cuts to the plans under the new health care law. Most of the money would go to plans rated merely average. …
GAO, the investigative agency of Congress, did not address GOP allegations that the bonuses are politically motivated. But, its report found the program highly unusual. It “dwarfs” all other Medicare pilots undertaken in nearly 20 years, the GAO said.
That will force the rest of the media to give this more coverage. I’d expect a Romney or RNC ad on this subject in the next few days.