Posts Tagged ‘Obamacare’

Where was the Cliff’s Notes version?

Jonathan Gruber, an MIT Professor, and Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, were both involved in the creation of the so-called “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” AKA “Obamacare.” That act was forced on America like a size 12 foot into a size 9 shoe. It was huge — thousands of pages long — and complex. So long and complicated that legislators had inadequate time to review it before it was “deemed passed.” Gruber and Sebelius have both expressed the view that the American public was too “stupid” or “insurance illiterate” to understand a law like that.

Ouch! Stupid? Really? We weren’t even allowed the five days for public comment that the President had promised for just such cases. I tried ambitiously to read it shortly after it was “passed” (without any Republican votes) and immediately found myself being referred by section and paragraph number to equally involved provisions of Social Security law. I quickly realized that it was a job for lawyers who had a lot more background and time on their hands.

Gruber stated that Obamacare was not transparent and that lack of transparency was a political advantage. Advantage for whom? Certainly not for those of us who had the greatest need to understand it. Gruber just couldn’t resist bragging about how cleverly the whole thing was put together. (I’m more deceptive than you are… nah nah, na, nah nah.)

It seems to me that someone who ostensibly was working on behalf of the American people (Sebelius) and someone who received about $400,000 of our money to help craft the bill (Gruber), should have been trying to make it as transparent and easy to understand as possible. Holding the views they’ve expressed about the (poor dumb ignorant) public, they should have been trying to guarantee that the people most affected by the law could understand it. Where was the Cliff’s Notes version?

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No “Fixes” for Obamacare

We have been told numerous times that the ACA, “Obamacare,” is the law of the land. Some of the law’s supporters have even called it the “settled” law of the land to emphasize the idea that it may not be changed.

Of course, even while these claims were being put forth in the media, our President was already diddling around with it, delaying the employer mandate feature of the law. This he did on top of other exemptions he had granted to one favored party or another.

Even some Democrats who strongly support it, or at least had supported it, are now urging that it be delayed. They have been stung by the ineptitude of the program’s introduction to the real world. Senators who supported the law and are up for reelection in 2014 are worried that their support may get them voted out of office.

Now we are hearing various suggestions for how to “fix” the law, and a cadre of computer programmers have been set to the task of correcting the code that is supposed to make it run smoothly. This process may not trouble some legislators who are always asking approval to “revise and extend” their remarks. But it disturbs me and should concern us all. These code writers could insert changes to the law either inadvertently or on purpose. Their craft is arcane enough that the ordinary citizen or congressional committee would be unable to monitor, let alone stop, any such changes. Indeed it might be tempting to “simplify” the law rather than create the code to make it run as originally conceived. To do so would be legislating by computer code, something that would be unconstitutional and start us down a slippery slope that could plague us for years.

The way to avoid it altogether is to repeal the law legislatively and start over again.

Dwight Boud

Secrecy Bites

It appears to me that the President’s penchant for secrecy has come around to bite him. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was sold, much like the President himself, as a “pig in a poke.” Virtually no one read it before it was “passed.” It was thousands of pages long and legislators were told they had to “pass it to find out what was in it.” Obviously whatever was in it had to be kept secret. So what to do when it came time to set up the computer programs to enable the new law to work? If they hired one outstanding firm to assign their best programmers to the task, it was almost certain that the programmers would have to know what was in it. After all, how could they write code without knowing what it was supposed to accomplish?

The way to keep it secret was, first of all, to use only people who could be trusted. The programming job had to be done by people who wouldn’t spill the beans. Spilling the beans prematurely could engender more resistance to the law than was good for the President’s objectives. But even that wasn’t fool proof. Washington, D.C. was prone to information leaks. To make such leaks less likely, the best plan was a.) to give the job to a Canadian company, after all, they already had a nationalized healthcare system, and b.) to divide the programming into separate smaller segments. That way the program could be written but be so divided that no one would have the overall picture. The right hand wouldn’t know what the left hand was doing. It could all be put together later.

One method programmers use when they don’t know specifically what goes into a certain position in a program is to enter “placeholder” language. When that is all “put together” without being edited by someone who understands the demands of the whole law, you get what we’ve got. But it all had to be kept secret. You know, like Obama’s college records, who decided to say that the Benghazi killings happened because of a video, who gave the orders for the IRS to target conservative groups, and on and on.

The problems with the sign-up page are just the beginning. Who has any confidence that other aspects of the program are set to run any more smoothly? In Florida, 300,000 people have been told their health insurance doesn’t qualify under the new law. So much for “you can keep your plan.”

No “Amending” Obamacare Law

There is deep public concern over the “Obama Agenda.” The President has authoritarian tendencies that lead, for example, to his governing by executive order. It is natural, when faced with an executive administration bent on controlling virtually every aspect of our lives, to express concerns about what it is trying to accomplish. Just as when we watch a magician at work, though, we are so distracted by what he does (pull a rabbit out of an empty hat, for example) that we seldom have time to consider the inevitable question: “How did he do that?”

Sometimes How the President does something is more important in the long run than What he has done. A case in point is present in the treatment of the “Affordable Care Act”and the recent decision to postpone the activation of the large-business mandate to provide health insurance to employees. The What that has been done is the postponing of a key provision of the Obamacare law for a year, i.e. until after the mid-term election. More important than the one year postponement is the manner in which it is being done.

“Obamacare” was “passed” (or deemed passed) by a one party vote of Congress. It was pushed through quickly as though in response to a health insurance “crisis.” The act was so long and complex that it’s unlikely that any member of congress had time to read or analyze it. But once passed and signed by the President, it became “the law of the land,” (How many times have we been reminded of that?) and that’s where it gets very interesting.

French King Louis XIV claimed “L’etat c’est moi,” — I am the State. Sometimes Barack Obama acts as if he believes that he is the state. But in the USA, the State is more than the President, more that the whole government. It is the people. Hence, when an act becomes the law of the land, it ceases to be a bill introduced to the legislature by a member and its sponsors. Until passage, it is subject to amendment. But once it becomes a law, “the law of the land,” it is our law. It’s no longer subject to amendment. The legislators who wrote the bill and submitted it for consideration, any who voted for or against it, any President who signed it have all lost control of it. Like it or not, it belongs to the people.

Laws can be challenged in courts. Contradictory bills can be presented in
Congress. But the President, who presumably knew what the bill said before he signed it, does not (or should not) have the power to simply change his mind about it and unilaterally amend a law after the fact. To get back to the magician analogy, the postponement is the WHAT he has done. The single-handed alteration of what the law says in black and white is the HOW. The how, if allowed to stand, sets a terrible precedent. It becomes a de facto line-item-veto for Presidents henceforward. It would allow a President to simply discard any section of a law that he/she does not support. It sets the stage for government of men and not of laws, a system that prevails in way too many dictatorships around the world.

Or so it seems from here…