|3:34 PM, Dec 13, 2013 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
On Thursday afternoon, HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a number of unusual requests to insurers selling health plans on the Obamacare exchanges.
Sebelius "strongly encouraged" insurers to pay for prescriptions in January that were covered under policyholders' old plans but not under their new Obamacare plans. She requested that insurers bill some out-of-network care as in-network care. But the most unusual request by far was that insurers allow people to "retroactively" sign up for coverage effective January 1 anytime next month.
"We're encouraging [insurers] to offer retroactive coverage," Michael Hash, director of HHS's office of health reform, told reporters on a Thursday afternoon conference call. "For example, to allow someone who signs up and pays on January 5 to get coverage with a retroactive start date of January the first."
"Many insurers do retroactive coverage in the current market," HHS policy director Chiquita Brooks-Lasure said later on the same call. But health care industry consultant Bob Laszewski says that isn't true.
"I don't know what the hell they're talking about," Laszewski tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "I've been in the health insurance business for 40 years. You sign it prospectively, not retrospectively."
Indeed, if people could buy insurance retroactively, why would they buy it when they're healthy? If you could get your medical bills covered from a January 3 car accident by signing up on January 10, there would be no reason to pay a premium in December.
So why would the admininstration make such an unusual request? What seems to be the obvious answer is that the administration is panicked about the fact that Obamacare has canceled the health insurance plans of millions of Americans, and some of those people won't be able to sign up for coverage that starts January 1.
What happens to an American who is uninsured because of Obamacare on January 1 and gets in a car accident on January 3? Will she face bankruptcy? Or will the federal government force the insurer to pay the medical bills or use taxpayer money?
"There's nothing on the table that [the government] can do," says Laszewski. "They have no regulatory or administrative authority to make [insurers] take them. They have no slush funds that I know of."
Laszewski predicts that insurers will agree to retroactively cover people who thought they enrolled in time and can prove it.
"I think if someone has legitimately tried to enroll, and they've got proof that they legitimately tried to enroll, like printing off whatever webpage that says you're enrolled, they're probably going to get fixed retroactively because they made a good faith attempt to enroll," he says. "I would just tell all consumers keep copies of everything."
"I think the real question is when someone claims they made a number of attempts to enroll, they have no evidence of it, then what do you do?" Laszewski asks. "If you're running the insurance company, what would you do?"
It's not clear just how many Americans will experience a gap in insurance coverage because of Obamacare. On Thursday afternoon's HHS press call, one reporter asked: "Is it possible at this point that more people may lose insurance in January than gain it? Is that what's motivating these policy announcements today?"
Hosted by Michael Graham.1:15 PM, Dec 13, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on the Ryan-Murray Budget deal, Obamacare Delays, and Obama's Nelson Mandela speech.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
12:51 PM, Dec 13, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Joe Biden joked about becoming a "co-president" with Barack Obama.
“I kind of like that notion of co-presidents. But I couldn’t talk Barack into it,” Biden said Thursday night at a U.S. Global Leadership Coalition dinner, according to Josh Rogin. “That’s a good idea, I’ll have to bring this up with Barack at lunch.”
Rogin reports that Biden used the speech to talk about the ongoing protests in the Ukraine:
Vice President Joe Biden challenged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to cease violence against protesters, begin a dialogue with the opposition, and restore his country's ties to the European Union Thursday evening. He also said America can play a role in Ukraine’s future.
“In Ukraine, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to demand a modern, democratic, prosperous future, which they see in Europe. And they look to us for help,” Biden said, becoming the most senior Obama adminstration to condemn the government’s weeks long crackdown on street protesters. “Nothing would have greater impact for securing our interests and the world’s interests in Europe than to see a democratic, prosperous, and independent Ukraine in the region. And in our view, it would be the best thing that could ever happen to Russia in the long term.”
Biden was the featured honoree at Thursday evening at the annual gala of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a non-governmental organization that advocates on behalf of diplomacy and development as tools of national power. He said he knew Yanukovych well and had “several hours worth” of conversations with him in recent months.
12:01 PM, Dec 13, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The State Department is warning Americans not to travel to Libya. The stated reason: "extremist groups in Libya made specific threats against U.S. government officials and U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Libya."
The State Department warning reads, "The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Libya and strongly advises against all but essential travel to Tripoli and against all travel to areas outsideof Tripoli. Because of ongoing instability and violence, the Department’s ability to provide consular services to U.S. citizens within Tripoliis extremely limited, and the Department cannot provide consular services outside Tripoli except by telephone. The U.S. Embassy in Libya remains an unaccompanied post due to security concerns. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated June 7, 2013.
The Libyan government is still working to rebuild its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution. The security situation remains unpredictable and unstable. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation. Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country. In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya. For instance, in October and December 2013, extremist groups in Libya made specific threats against U.S. government officials and U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Libya. Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted by extremist groups seeking to injure or kill U.S. citizens, and should act accordingly with extreme caution. In addition, on December 5, 2013, a U.S. citizen teacher resident in Benghazi was killed in a drive-by shooting near his home.
Sporadic episodes of civil unrest have occurred throughout the country and attacks by armed militants can occur in many different areas; hotels frequented by westerners have been caught in the crossfire. On November 15, 2013, fighting between militias and protesters in Tripoli resulted in the deaths of approximately 50 people with hundreds more injured. Since that time, some militias have withdrawn from Tripoli. However, checkpoints controlled by militias are common outside of Tripoli and other urban areas have witnessed fighting between armed groups and government forces. Closures or threats of closures of the international airports occur regularly, for maintenance-, labor-, or security-related reasons.
In a September 11, 2012, four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were murdered by al Qaeda-alligned terrorists.
11:22 AM, Dec 13, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
It is taken as a given that the Obama administration has lost interest in Afghanistan and cannot get out of that country soon enough. And that the Karzai regime is doing its part by dragging its feet on a status-of-forces agreement. But to have things come to this:
President Obama’s brain trust on Afghanistan does not know much the U.S. spends on the war each year or the American cost in lost lives on the battlefield.
This is not a story about another testy White House briefing by Jay Carney. As Rowan Scarborough's reports in the Washington Times, the clueless officials testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee were:
James F. Dobbins, State’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Donald Sampler, assistant to the administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides civilian foreign aid; and Michael Dumont, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
10:48 AM, Dec 13, 2013 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
Even after 65 years of hideous barbarity, the murderousness of the Kim regime still holds the capacity to shock. Korea-watchers are baffled at the news that Kim Jong-un had his uncle and former mentor, Jang Song-thaek, summarily executed for “treason” this week. (For analysis of the events leading to Jang’s purge and execution, see Dennis C. Halpin’s piece in this week’s magazine.)
There’s an irony here. Since the establishment of their dictatorship, the Kims have held themselves as guardians of traditional Korean culture, protecting true ‘Korean-ness’ against the Japanese, the Americans, and the South Korean ‘puppet regime.’ (Kim Il-sung, for example, the founder of the dictatorship, was actually born Kim Song-ju. He took the name ‘Il-sung’ to associate himself with a famed guerilla fighter who took on the Japanese.)
In Korea, a country steeped in Confucianism, the family is of the utmost importance. Veneration for ones’ elders is also an important component of the structure of Korean society. In sum, there could be nothing less “Korean” than what Kim Jong-un has just done: killed a member of his own family, and an elder, no less. But then, up has always been down in the fallaciously named “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
Middle Easterners fear the White House will return to bad American habits.9:15 AM, Dec 13, 2013 • By DAVID SCHENKER
Back in 2006, during a particularly low point in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the congressionally mandated Iraq Study Group issued a report in which the central contentious proposition was that “all key issues in the region are inextricably linked.” Accordingly, to stem the deterioration in Iraq and “achieve its goals” in the Middle East, the report posited the U.S. would have to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Seven years on, while the conceit linking Iraq to the Arab-Israeli peace process is no longer relevant, the concept of linkage appears to be making a comeback—this time in the context of Iran and war in Syria. During a recent trip to Lebanon, a concern I heard repeatedly voiced was that if Tehran played ball and signed onto a nuclear deal, the Obama administration might be prepared to acknowledge Iranian interests in Syria and drop its demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down.
The prospect of somehow tying Iran’s nuclear file to ceasefire talks in Syria was of great concern to many of the Middle Easterners I spoke to. And for good reason—linking international efforts to roll back Iran’s nuclear program in order to achieve a ceasefire in Syria would be ill advised.
To be sure, Iran and Syria are inexorably connected. For more than three decades, the Shiite theocracy in Tehran and the Alawite regime in Damascus have been strategic partners. And today, Iran is the leading supporter of the Assad regime, providing the weapons, technical assistance, and troops that have enabled Assad to combat the insurgency.
But Iran cannot serve as a productive interlocutor in Syria. Regardless of whether the “first step” nuclear framework agreement with Iran progresses to a full-scale deal, Tehran views the survival of a friendly regime in Damascus to be a priority. Syria is the gateway of Iranian influence in the Levant. If Assad was toppled, he would likely be replaced with a Sunni regime hostile to Iran that would sever the key supply line between Tehran and its Lebanese Shiite militia proxy, Hezbollah.
To date, there is no formal indication that the White House has changed its position on Syria. Indeed, just last month, Secretary of State John Kerry again declared that America “believes that Assad has lost any legitimacy of the governance of Syria and must go.”
In the region, however, tough administration statements on Syria no longer inspire confidence. The aborted U.S. military response to the Assad regime’s August 21 chemical weapons attack, the reticence—despite public assurances—to provide arms to the Syrian opposition, the ubiquitous reports that the administration is supplying intelligence to Hezbollah to protect the organization from attacks, and the optics of the ostensible U.S. rapprochement with Tehran, have all taken a toll on American credibility in the Middle East.
7:24 AM, Dec 13, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
On November 26, the Financial Times published an extravagant encomium to Lady Catherine Ashton by its Brussels bureau chief Peter Spiegel, under the headline “EU foreign policy chief Lady Ashton comes of age in Iran talks.” Spiegel reported, “her team returned from negotiations in Geneva to a standing ovation . . . from EU ambassadors for their part in clinching a historic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Ashton, to give her full title, had indeed been a star of the Geneva smile-a-thon with the Iranians. Spiegel wrote further, “It is not merely a one-off success, but the high point in a six-month stretch that began with the unexpected deal she brokered between Kosovo and Serbia in April, paving the way for two former foes to normalise relations.” The so-called “Kosovo agreement with Serbia,” crafted in Brussels, was much less expansive than indicated by Spiegel, and attracted little American attention. It was hardly greeted with such enthusiasm by the parties involved, least of all on the Kosovar Albanian side.
As recorded on April 20 by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) media monitoring service, when the promised pact between the two Balkan countries was announced by Ashton, she enthused, “I want to congratulate [Kosovar prime minister Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic] for their determination over these months and for the courage that they have. It is very important that now what we are seeing is a step away from the past and, for both of them, a step closer to Europe.”
Early bulletins on the supposed diplomatic breakthrough claimed that Serbian parallel police and “de facto” courts in the violently-intransigent, Serbian-occupied northernmost corner of Kosovo would be integrated into a unified Kosovo legal system under the control of its Albanian-majority government. But Serbia had removed from the agreement a phrase that would have ended its policy of blocking membership for Kosovo in the United Nations and other international organizations.
Albanians count 92 percent of Kosovo’s population, with Serbs included alongside other minorities in the remaining 8 percent by the CIA World Factbook. Thus, each state supposedly got something and surrendered nothing. Koha Ditore (Daily Times), the newspaper of record in Pristina, the Kosovar capital, pointed out immediately that the prime ministers of each, Thaci and Dacic, “came out with differing interpretations of what they had agreed to in Brussels.”
6:33 PM, Dec 12, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
On Thursday evening, House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the budget deal crafted by Republican congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic senator Patty Murray, chairs of their respective budget committees.
The resolution passed with 332 votes for it and 94 votes against it. Sixty-two Republicans voted against the bill, which had the support of House leadership.
Looks like it.5:45 PM, Dec 12, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services released a set of "additional steps" designed to "help" Americans get health insurance before the start of the new year. Philip Klein discusses those guidelines over at the Washington Examiner, reporting that HHS is "encouraging" health insurers to accept late and partial payments for insurance plans for the month of January.
"It is requiring insurers to accept payments until Dec. 31 for coverage starting on Jan. 1," Klein writes. "It is also 'urging' insurers to give individuals more time beyond that to pay for coverage. In other words, if somebody pays for coverage in the middle of January, HHS is asking insurers to retroactively make that person's coverage effective as of Jan. 1. HHS is also asking insurers to cover individuals who offer a 'down payment,' even if that payment only covers part of the first month's premiums."
Klein notes that it looks like the Obama administration is anticipating more Americans losing their current coverage or unable to get coverage under Obamacare:
On a conference call, an HHS spokeswoman emphasized: “We are just proposing it as an option and we’re encouraging issuers. There is no requirement.”
Translation: HHS has a huge mess on its hands and it hopes that by getting ahead of this news, it can foist the blame for the problems on insurers.
Of course, for insurers who have spent years designing plans to comply with the law, this would present huge and unreasonable logistical hurdles.
The Tampa Bay Times's Politifact, meanwhile, has named Obama's promise that "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it" under Obamacare its "Lie of the Year" for 2013--four years after the president first began making that promise.
Hosted by Michael Graham.5:15 PM, Dec 12, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with senior writer Stephen F. Hayes on the recent budget fight and how dragging out the debate about the Ryan-Murray budget deal hampers the ability of conservatives to press forward on the failures of Obamacare.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
3:36 PM, Dec 12, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Iranians are saying the nuclear deal means the beginning of the end of sanctions. At least that's what a foreign ministry spokeswoman told the Iranian press.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham blasted the US officials for their new sanctions threats against Tehran, and said such remarks are meant to cover up Washington’s failure in preventing the collapse of sanctions structure.
“We think that based on the negotiations (held between Iran and the world powers) and the Joint Plan of Action (agreed by them) the structure of sanctions has cracked and its collapse has started,” Afkham told reporters in Tehran on Tuesday.
She referred to some news reports saying that 90% of the way for approving the US Congress’s new sanctions against Iran have been paved, and said, “Mentioning percentage in this regard is an effort to poison the atmosphere and create a psychological atmosphere around different issues.”
30 members support the House Resolution calling for civil action.1:49 PM, Dec 12, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Congressman Tom Rice of South Carolina, a Republican, is sponsoring a resolution in the House of Representatives that would, if adopted, direct the legislative body "to bring a civil action for declaratory or injunctive relief to challenge certain policies and actions taken by the executive branch." In other words, Rep. Rice wants to take President Obama to court for not faithfully executing the laws.
"President Obama has adopted a practice of picking and choosing which laws he wants to enforce. In most cases, his laws of choice conveniently coincide with his Administration’s political agenda. Our Founding Fathers created the Executive Branch to implement and enforce the laws written by Congress and vested this power in the President. However, President Obama has chosen to ignore some of the laws written by Congress and implemented by preceding Presidents," Rice wrote in a letter to fellow House members to ask them to co-sponsor this resolution.
"This resolution allows the House of Representatives to bring legal action against the Executive Branch and challenge recent actions, inactions, and policies."
The "legal action against the President" would be, according to an aide for Rep. Rice, "for ignoring Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution." Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states,
He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.
The resolution alleges that President Obama and his administration have abused executive power and failed to execute the laws of the United States faithfully.
Thus, the resolution calls for "CIVIL ACTION.—The House of Representatives shall bring a civil action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for declaratory or injunctive relief to challenge any of the following policies or actions:
(1) The policy of the Department of Health and Human Services that, with respect to health insurance coverage that is renewed for a policy year during the period beginning January 1, 2014, and ending October 1, 2014, health insurance issuers may continue to offer coverage that would otherwise be terminated or cancelled for being out of compliance with various requirements of title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act and corresponding portions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as announced by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services on November 14, 2013.
(2) The 1-year delay in the application of the reporting requirements of sections 6055 and 6056 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (and related requirements of section 4980H of such Code), as provided under Department of the Treasury Notice 2013–45, as announced by the Department of the Treasury on July 2, 2013.
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