In today's New York Post, Benjamin Sasse and Charles Hurt report that the White House is again playing politics with Medicare. Obamacare guts Medicare Advantage, the popular market-based program to get Medicare coverage. (And it's very popular -- the program had 5.3 million enrollees in 2003, and now has 12 million. That includes more than one in three Medicare recipients in California and New York.) Suffice to say, many of those in the Medicare Advantage program would not be happy to find out about any changes to their Medicare plan before election day. Contain your surprise, but Sasse and Hurt report the White House is engaged in very dubious tactics to make sure that doesn't happen:
Nothing is more politically volatile than monkeying with the health insurance of seniors, who aren’t too keen on confusing upheavals in their health care and are the most diligent voters in the land. This could make the Tea Party look like a tea party.
Making matters even more politically dangerous for Obama is that open enrollment begins Oct. 15, less than three weeks before voters go to the polls.
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.”
Past demonstration projects have studied new medical techniques or strategies aimed at improving care or reducing costs. The point is to find ways to lower the costs of Medicare by allowing medical technocrats to make efficient decisions without interference from vested interests.
Sasse and Hurt also note that a recent Government Accountability Office report calls out the administration for this stunt and recommends they cancel their $8 billion "experiment." Be sure and read the whole thing.