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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Subpoenas show 6 Obamacare enrollments on Oct. 1

Obamacare enrollments got off to very slow start, documents show

Sharyl Attkisson

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - For 31 days now, the Obama administration has been telling us that Americans by the millions are visiting the new health insurance website, despite all its problems.
But no one in the administration has been willing to tell us how many policies have been purchased, and this may be the reason: CBS News has learned enrollments got off to an incredibly slow start.
Early enrollment figures are contained in notes from twice-a-day "war room" meetings convened within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services after the website failed on Oct. 1. They were turned over in response to a document request from the House Oversight Committee.
The website launched on a Tuesday. Publicly, the government said there were 4.7 million unique visits in the first 24 hours. But at a meeting Wednesday morning, the war room notes say "six enrollments have occurred so far."
They were with BlueCross BlueShield North Carolina and Kansas City, CareSource and Healthcare Service Corporation.
By Wednesday afternoon, enrollments were up to "approximately 100." By the end of Wednesday, the notes reflect "248 enrollments" nationwide.
The health care exchanges need to average 39,000 enrollees a day to meet the goal of seven million by March 1. The war room notes give a glimpse into some of the reasons customers had problems:
  • "Direct enrollment (signing up directly on an insurer's website) is not working for any issuers."
  • "Experian" credit reporting agency is "creating confusion with credit check information."
  • "Issuer phone numbers are not appearing correctly on the Pay Now page."
The notes leave no doubt that some enrollment figures, which the administration has chosen to keep secret, are available.
"Statistics coming in," said notes from the very first meeting the morning of Oct. 2. Contractor "QSSI has a daily dashboard created every night."
But head of CMS Marilyn Tavenner would not disclose any figures when Rep. Dave Camp, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, asked earlier this week.
"Chairman Camp, we will have those numbers available in mid-November," she said.
Health and Human Services told CBS News Thursday it's in no position to confirm or discuss enrollment figures because it doesn't have any. A spokesman suggested the numbers obtained by CBS News may not include all the different ways to enroll, such as paper applications. The spokesman also said that enrollment figures in Massachusetts' health care plan started off negligible but then skyrocketed as a deadline neared.

51 Percent to Lose Employer Based Insurance

Katie Pavlich

As millions of Americans in the individual health insurance market place continue to lose their coverage, analysts are looking ahead at the fallout we can expect to see when the employer mandate goes into effect in 2015. We've already seen employers and companies dropping health coverage altogether and cutting full-time workers to part time in order to avoid massive health insurance costs but now, Forbes reveals that was just the beginning.
 Mid-range estimate: 51% of employer-sponsored plans will get canceled
 It turns out that in an obscure report buried in a June 2010 edition of the Federal Register, administration officials predicted massive disruption of the private insurance market.
 the administration’s commentary in the Federal Register did not only refer to the individual market, but also the market for employer-sponsored health insurance.

Section 1251 of the Affordable Care Act contains what’s called a “grandfather” provision that, in theory, allows people to keep their existing plans if they like them. But subsequent regulations from the Obama administration interpreted that provision so narrowly as to prevent most plans from gaining this protection.

“The Departments’ mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013,” wrote the administration on page 34,552 of the Register. All in all, more than half of employer-sponsored plans will lose their “grandfather status” and get canceled. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 156 million Americans—more than half the population—was covered by employer-sponsored insurance in 2013.

Another 25 million people, according to the CBO, have “nongroup and other” forms of insurance; that is to say, they participate in the market for individually-purchased insurance. In this market, the administration projected that “40 to 67 percent” of individually-purchased plans would lose their Obamacare-sanctioned “grandfather status” and get canceled, solely due to the fact that there is a high turnover of participants and insurance arrangements in this market.
As a reminder, before Obamacare was passed in 2010, the vast majority of Americans were satisfied with the plans they had. In addition, the majority of the uninsured were satisfied with their medical care and costs. From Gallup in 2009:
 Americans are broadly satisfied with the quality of their own medical care and healthcare costs, but of the two, satisfaction with costs lags. Overall, 80% are satisfied with the quality of medical care available to them, including 39% who are very satisfied. Sixty-one percent are satisfied with the cost of their medical care, including 20% who are very satisfied.

There is a clear gulf in these perceptions between the health insurance haves and have-nots. According to a Sept. 11-13 USA Today/Gallup poll, the 85% of Americans with health insurance coverage are broadly satisfied with the quality of medical care they receive and with their healthcare costs. At 79%, satisfaction with costs among Medicare/Medicaid recipients is particularly high.

The 15% who are uninsured are far less satisfied with the quality of their medical care (50% are satisfied), and only 27% are satisfied with their healthcare costs. (Sixty-nine percent are dissatisfied with their costs.)
What we're going to see is a collapse in the insurance marketplace, which is exactly what President Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Harry Reid and Kathleen Sebelius want in order to push a single-payer system. The only hope we have to avoid this scenario is for Republicans to come up with an alternative system that is ready to go before this happens. As millions and millions of people start to lose their health insurance, they'll start to panic over not having coverage, which opens up the door for the government to step in and solve its own crisis through a single-payer system. Think people won't want single-payer? They might not in principle, but when people panic and the government is the only option they have to cover an emergency, they'll take advantage of it. If this happens, there's no going back and we'll have single-payer forever.

NEWS! Media Behind the Curve


Throughout the Obama administration, our dangerously incurious, acquiescent media have been collectively caught off guard by every White House scandal, from Benghazi to the IRS to "you can keep your insurance." Each and every time, the media ignored conservatives who warned in advance of what was happening. But the next unexploded scandal -- a nuclear bomb in ObamaCare -- is an opportunity for the media to redeem itself.
Thursday, Forbes reported that the Obama administration knew in 2010, that by the time the dust settles, 93 million Americans will lose their insurance due to ObamaCare. This time, instead of being caught off guard and surprised by something that is an open secret, maybe the media can get ahead of this story before it is too late -- if it isn't already:
Section 1251 of the Affordable Care Act contains what’s called a “grandfather” provision that, in theory, allows people to keep their existing plans if they like them. But subsequent regulations from the Obama administration interpreted that provision so narrowly as to prevent most plans from gaining this protection.
“The Departments’ mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013,” wrote the administration on page 34,552 of the Register. All in all, more than half of employer-sponsored plans will lose their “grandfather status” and get canceled. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 156 million Americans—more than half the population—was covered by employer-sponsored insurance in 2013.
Another 25 million people, according to the CBO, have “nongroup and other” forms of insurance; that is to say, they participate in the market for individually-purchased insurance. In this market, the administration projected that “40 to 67 percent” of individually-purchased plans would lose their Obamacare-sanctioned “grandfather status” and get canceled, solely due to the fact that there is a high turnover of participants and insurance arrangements in this market. (Plans purchased after March 23, 2010 do not benefit from the “grandfather” clause.) The real turnover rate would be higher, because plans can lose their grandfather status for a number of other reasons.
How many people are exposed to these problems? 60 percent of Americans have private-sector health insurance—precisely the number that Jay Carney dismissed. As to the number of people facing cancellations, 51 percent of the employer-based market plus 53.5 percent of the non-group market (the middle of the administration’s range) amounts to 93 million Americans.
Dear Media: This is science, math, and law. How about digging in a little bit on this one? Because it is coming and we all know it.

Democrats Scramble from Obamacare


With the 2014 midterm elections just a year away, nervous Democrats have begun distancing themselves from what Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius now calls the Obamacare "debacle." 

"Our guys are frustrated by Obama's unforced errors," a Senate Democrat aide toldReuters on Wednesday. "How could the president not be ready for the rollout?" 
Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) expressed frustration last week with the Obama Administration's failed rollout of Obama's signature legislative achievement.
"Some of us, myself included, are somewhat resentful [and] upset about the apparent incompetency in designing and rolling this thing out," said Nolan. "Who was it that said we are going to go ahead knowing it doesn't work? I would fire that person."
The number four Democrat in the House, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), said, "I absolutely believe that somebody should be held accountable."
Other Democrats now say they agree with Republicans that a delay of the individual mandate may be the only way to salvage the disaster and save face. 
"I think the administration is going to have to look at it [delay of the individual mandate]. and I'd encourage them to do so," said Rep. Gene Green (D-TX). 
Five Democrats have now asked for the Obama Administration to seek a refund from the contractors responsible for the Obamacare website fiasco. Reps. Ron Barber (D-AZ), William Enyart (D-IL), Pete Gallego (D-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Filemon Vela (D-TX) wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging the reimbursement effort.
The Democrat defections come as conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity have poured an estimated $2 million into ad buys targeting Democrats in vulnerable districtswith messages highlighting their embrace of Obamacare.

Trick or Treat


Halloween has become, like so many things in modern America, nice. It's all treat and no trick, and far more amusing than terrifying. But the Obama administration is to be commended for reminding us—in an uncharacteristic moment of originalism—of the older meaning of the holiday, in which the trick was more important than the treat, the treat was often problematic, and the mood was more scary than funny.
The administration's trick was, of course, claiming you could keep your health care plan if you liked it. The administration's treat is the exchanges, where Americans can pay more for a plan you may not want that will provide access to a more limited choice of doctors and hospitals. The trick now fools no one, and the treat isn't much appreciated. And the whole spectacle isn't funny. It's scary.
The meltdown of Obamacare in the days before Halloween may eventually be seen as the beginning of its end. Those same days also featured the beginning of the next move in the appeasement of Iran. The administration is pleading that Congress delay imposing any new sanctions on Iran, including those passed a few months ago by huge bipartisan majorities in the House and now awaiting action in the Senate. So the Obama administration's position is this: No delay to help protect Americans from the effects of Obamacare. But plenty of delay to help protect the mullahs in Tehran from the effects of sanctions.
Needless to say, congressional Republicans should confront the Obama administration on both fronts. And they can take inspiration from another eve-of-Halloween development: The Red Sox triumph in the World Series. The BoSox, coming off a sixty-nine win season last year, their worst in almost a half century, clinched the championship in their own grand old park, Fenway, for the first time in almost a century. The Grand Old Party was also coming off a rough year. But the example of the Red Sox suggests things can turn around faster than everyone expects. And congressional Republicans probably don't even have to grow long and scraggly beards.
They just need to take the words of Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster to heart: "Really, we're a team of over-achievers. We don't have anyone out of the ordinary, but a lot of consistent guys who know how to win." And they have to rally the nation against an exposed and exhausted liberalism whose tricks no longer work and whose treats no longer appeal.

The Obama Facade Cracks at Last

By Janice Shaw Crouse

Only now -- five years into his presidency -- are we seeing some cracks in the protective shield surrounding President Obama, and then only after the abuse of reporters' privacy has been threatened. Mainstream journalists have not scrutinized his controversial policies, nor have they held him accountable for questionable actions that have caused outrage among fair-minded critics and produced irreparable harm to the nation.
Some facts are irrefutable, but the president has, by and large, deflected all blame and few in the media have dared question his policies and actions. Investor's Business Daily reports that we are becoming a welfare state. The Census Department reported this week that almost half (49 percent) of Americans (151 million) are on federal aid. The U.S. has spent nearly $4 trillion ($3.7) on welfare over the past five years -- that is five times greater than the money spent on transportation, education, and NASA, combined. Further, more than 70 percent of all federal spending goes to assistance programs, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that welfare spending will rise 80 percent over the next decade. Even with all that spending, though, 46.5 million Americans live in poverty and nearly half of all Americans pay absolutely no federal income tax. It doesn't take an economics genius to realize that with the nation's debt at $17 trillion and with more than $50 trillion in unfunded liabilities, we are in deep economic trouble. In short, the buck stops with President Obama when it comes to assessing blame for "the weakest recovery from a recession in modern American history."
In the face of such dire statistics, it is instructive to review the president's economic performance to date. President Obama has been late in turning in a budget to Congress in four of the past five years. Current "solutions" to the fiscal crisis are to print more money, raise taxes, and, in the process, weakened the American dollar, threatening its status as the sole world reserve currency.
The president's signature legislation -- his legacy, if you will -- is ObamaCare. This massive health insurance legislation, taking over one-sixth of the American economy, was forced on the nation through a straight party-line vote. While the president constantly chided the Congress for not "negotiating" or being unwilling to be "bipartisan," President Obama himself was unwilling to talk with Republicans and repeatedly stated that "He Won" the election and "shouldn't have to offer anything."
The president has engaged in a pattern of lying to the American public. He has often repeated the ObamaCare mantra, "We will keep this promise to the American people. If you like your doctor you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep yourhealthcare plan. Period." He added, "Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have." Now, NBC News, no less, informs Americans that the president knew that he was not telling the truth about his healthcare plan. The NBC report quoted healthcare experts who expect more than half and perhaps as many as 80 percent of those with individual plans will have their policies terminated and have to buy new policies with expanded coverage they don't need or desire due to the requirements of ObamaCare. So how many single 27-year-old guys really need a policy that covers maternity costs?
Bob Woodward, one of the journalists famed for breaking the Watergate story, called the Obama Administration a "rat's nest of concealment and lies" and described it as a "secret government." That secret activity includes using the Internal Revenue Service to spy on and intimidate opponents. After he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, including critical remarks about President Obama's leadership, the famous Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson joined a long line of conservative who have been audited by the IRS.
Some of the worst lying from the Obama Administration is related to the Benghazi tragedy; the president called it a "phony scandal." But four Americans, including an American ambassador, were murdered, and there was remarkably little willingness from the Administration to investigate. Instead, the public received "misinformation, confusion and intense partisanship." From the outset, the administration blamed the attack on an obscure anti-Muslim video that hardly anyone had seen. It quickly became clear that the video had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack; instead, there were numerous warnings ahead of time (including pleas from the ambassador himself for better protection) and time for rescue teams to provide assistance to the victims. All were told to "stand down" and, thus far, no one has accepted responsibility or been willing to seriously investigate the tragedy. That is, until Lara Logan, a reporter for CBS' 60 Minutes declared that numerous authorities "saw it coming" and "Benghazi was a planned, sophisticated attack by al Qaeda against a barely protected American outpost." Amazingly, even a year later, the administration stonewalls, concealing the identities and whereabouts of survivors to prevent them from testifying before Congress and attacking anyone who dares ask penetrating questions.
I have written previously about the president's demagoguery; he has often chosen inflammatory and divisive rhetoric over being a leader of the whole nation. He has operated in campaign mode throughout his presidency instead of focusing on bringing the nation together to work together on our financial, economic, and other problems. Not only are we a nation more divided than ever, as former Vice President Dick Cheney said, "Our allies no longer trust the U.S., our enemies don't fear us." In a stinging indictment of the president's leadership, Dennis Prager declared that the "United States is at its weakest, has fewer allies, and has less military and diplomatic influence than at any time since before World War I." All of that can be laid at the president's feet and finally a few brave investigative reporters (national and international) are holding him accountable for his failed policies, stunning arrogance and betrayal of the American Constitution. When a president's egregious actions yield a deterioration of conditions to the degree we face today, it is time for that leader who has presided over such a pathetic administration -- albeit from the golf course -- to be called to account for his empty hype of "hope and change" and claims of "Yes, we can."

Deportations plummet in 2013, lowest since 2007

By Stephen Dinan

Authorities deported fewer illegal immigrants in fiscal 2013 than at any time since President Obama took office, according to secret numbers obtained by the Center for Immigration Studies that suggest Mr. Obama’s nondeportation policies have hindered removals.
Just 364,700 illegal immigrants were removed in fiscal 2013, according to internal numbers from U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement that CIS released Wednesday — down 11 percent from the nearly 410,000 who were deported in 2012.
Homeland Security officials didn’t dispute the numbers, but said their own counts are still preliminary.
The administration has testified to Congress that it has enough money to deport 400,000 every year, but Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at CIS, said Mr. Obama and the Homeland Security Department have placed so many illegal immigrants off-limits for deportations that they cannot find enough people to fulfill that quota.
“The policies that they’ve implemented, especially prosecutorial discretion and the new detainer policy, are dramatically suppressing interior enforcement,” Ms. Vaughan said. “Even though they are finding out about more illegal aliens than ever before, especially more criminal aliens, the ICE agents in the field have been ordered to look the other way.”
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said the agency has not tried to hide its new priorities, which have led to changes in the demographics of deportations.
“Over the course of this administration, DHS has set clear, common sense priorities to ensure that our finite enforcement resources are focused on public safety, national security, and border security,” she said.
“ICE has been vocal about the shift in our immigration enforcement strategy to focus on convicted criminals, public safety and border security and our removal numbers illustrate this,” she said.
The CIS report is bound to shake up the immigration debate going on in Congress.
Immigrant-rights advocates argue that Mr. Obama is removing too many people and have called for him to halt all deportations until Congress acts.
Indeed, immigrant-rights advocates cheered the new numbers, saying that if ICE confirms them, it will mean Mr. Obama is beginning to curb excessive enforcement.
“The dragnet deportation of 400,000 immigrants annually does nothing to make our streets safer, and constitutes a huge expenditure of government resources,” said Ruthie Epstein, policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union.
But those who want to see a crackdown say the administration is already ignoring most illegal immigrants, and said the latest numbers back that up.
Ms. Vaughan said that ICE agents and officers are encountering more immigrants than ever, including those with criminal records, which makes the drop in deportations more surprising. She said there’s a “target-rich environment” but the administration has hamstrung deportations.
The 364,700 deportations are the lowest since fiscal year 2007, which was in the middle of the last time Congress debated immigration.
Mr. Obama and his appointees at the Homeland Security Department have issued several policies designed to put illegal immigrants in the interior of the U.S. off-limits from deportations.
Probably the most famous of those is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which applies to so-called Dreamers, the young illegal immigrants who were usually brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents and are considered among the most sympathetic cases in the immigration debate.

No U.S. Action, So States Move on Privacy Law

State Representative Jonathan Stickland of Texas said Congress was not into protecting privacy.


State legislatures around the country, facing growing public concern about the collection and trade of personal data, have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws, from limiting how schools can collect student data to deciding whether the police need a warrant to track cellphone locations.
Over two dozen privacy laws have passed this year in more than 10 states, in places as different as Oklahoma and California. Many lawmakers say that news reports of widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency have led to more support for the bills among constituents. And in some cases, the state lawmakers say, they have felt compelled to act because of the stalemate in Washington on legislation to strengthen privacy laws.
“Congress is obviously not interested in updating those things or protecting privacy,” said Jonathan Stickland, a Republican state representative in Texas. “If they’re not going to do it, states have to do it.”
For Internet companies, the patchwork of rules across the country means keeping a close eye on evolving laws to avoid overstepping. Many companies have an internal team to deal with state legislation. And the flurry of legislation has led some companies, particularly technology companies, to exert their lobbying muscles — with some success — when proposed measures stand to harm their bottom lines.
“It can be counterproductive to have multiple states addressing the same issue, especially with online privacy, which can be national or an international issue,” said Michael D. Hintze, chief privacy counsel at Microsoft, who added that at times it can create “burdensome compliance.” For companies, it helps that state measures are limited in their scope by a federal law that prevents states from interfering with interstate commerce.
This year, Texas passed a bill introduced by Mr. Stickland that requires warrants for email searches, while Oklahoma enacted a law meant to protect the privacy of student data. At least three states proposed measures to regulate who inherits digital data, including Facebook passwords, when a user dies.
Some of the bills extend to surveillance beyond the web. Eight states, for example, have passed laws this year limiting the use of drones, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has advocated such privacy laws. In Florida, a lawmaker has drafted a bill that would prohibit schools from collecting biometric data to verify who gets free lunches and who gets off at which bus stop. Vermont has limited the use of data collected by license plate readers, which are used mostly by police to record images of license plates.
California, long a pioneer on digital privacy laws, has passed three online privacy bills this year. One gives children the right to erase social media posts, another makes it a misdemeanor to publish identifiable nude pictures online without the subject’s permission, and a third requires companies to tell consumers whether they abide by “do not track” signals on web browsers.
But stiff lobbying efforts were able to stop a so-called right to know bill proposed in California this year that stood to hurt the online industry. The bill would have required any business that “retains a customer’s personal information” to share a copy of that information at the customer’s request, as well as disclose which third parties have received the information. The practice of sharing customer data is central to digital advertising and to the large Internet companies that rely on advertising revenue.
“ ‘Right to know’ is an example of something that’s not workable,” said Jim Halpert, a lawyer with the national firm DLA Piper, who leads an industry coalition that includes Amazon, Facebook and Verizon. “It covers such a broad range of disclosures. We advocated against it.”
More than a year ago, the White House proposed a consumer privacy bill of rights, but Congress has not yet taken on the legislation. And a proposed update to the 27-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act has stalled. The proposal would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant, based on probable cause, before they could read through emails.
Several legislators said they felt compelled to act because Congress had not. “They don’t act in the best interest unless it’s in their best interest,” said Daniel Zolnikov, a first-time legislator in Montana. Mr. Zolnikov, a Republican, suggested that the lack of action was because of lobbying efforts from “special interests” on Capitol Hill.
So Mr. Zolnikov took up the privacy issue in his state house: Montana became the first state in the nation this year to pass a law that requires police to obtain a search warrant before it can track a suspect’s whereabouts through cellphone records.
According to a survey conducted in July by the Pew Internet Center, most Americans said they believed that existing laws were inadequate to protect their privacy online, and a clear majority reported making great efforts to mask their identities online. Some of those surveyed said they cleared browsing histories, deleted social media posts or used virtual networks to conceal their Internet Protocol addresses — and a few even said they used encryption tools.
Many states have already responded to those opinions. In the last couple of years, about 10 states have passed laws restricting employers from demanding access to their employees’ social media accounts.
California set the stage on digital privacy 10 years ago with a law that required organizations, whether public or private, to inform consumers if their personal data had been breached or stolen. Several states followed, and today, nearly every state has a data breach notification law.
This year, California amended that landmark law, adding an Internet user’s login name and password to the menu of personal information that is covered. The California attorney general’s office also has a full-time unit to enforce digital privacy laws.
But even in California, the steps taken on privacy legislation are not sweeping overhauls like those supported by the White House. And some bills in the state never become law at all. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill compelling police to seek a warrant before searching cellphone records to track a suspect’s location. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, saying it did not strike “the right balance” between the needs of citizens and the police.
John Pezold, a Republican representative in Georgia, said that issues like creating jobs were more pressing than privacy for many of his constituents. But he said the issue of digital privacy was beginning to bubble up, especially because of the recent reports on eavesdropping by the federal government.

“They’re becoming increasingly wary that their lives are going to be no longer their own,” said Mr. Pezold, who plans to introduce a broad consumer privacy bill in the next legislative session. “We have got to protect that.”