Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kathleen Sebelius

ObamaCare’s Day of Reckoning Can’t Be Postponed

The Obama administration is, along with liberals like Ezra Klein, promoting a new narrative: The Affordable Care Act, after a rough start, is now a raging success. More than 7.5 million Americans have enrolled. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will act as a circuit breaker. Here’s how Mr. Klein put it:

the law has won its survival. The Obama administration can exhale. Personnel changes can be made. A new team — led by Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who the White House calls a proven manager— can be brought in to continue to improve the law. And Sebelius can leave with her head held high. She can leave with the law she helped build looking, shockingly, like a success.

Some of us have a different interpretation, which is that the enrollment figures are dubious, that premiums will rise sharply later in the spring, and that the problems plaguing ObamaCare are systemic and won’t be fixed. The endless number of waivers, exemptions, and delays are evidence of that. The law will, in fact, remain highly unpopular with the public. And this will become most obvious on the night of November 4, when the returns from mid-term elections are in.

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The Obama administration is, along with liberals like Ezra Klein, promoting a new narrative: The Affordable Care Act, after a rough start, is now a raging success. More than 7.5 million Americans have enrolled. The resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will act as a circuit breaker. Here’s how Mr. Klein put it:

the law has won its survival. The Obama administration can exhale. Personnel changes can be made. A new team — led by Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who the White House calls a proven manager— can be brought in to continue to improve the law. And Sebelius can leave with her head held high. She can leave with the law she helped build looking, shockingly, like a success.

Some of us have a different interpretation, which is that the enrollment figures are dubious, that premiums will rise sharply later in the spring, and that the problems plaguing ObamaCare are systemic and won’t be fixed. The endless number of waivers, exemptions, and delays are evidence of that. The law will, in fact, remain highly unpopular with the public. And this will become most obvious on the night of November 4, when the returns from mid-term elections are in.

What the Obama White House is hoping is that, with the help of the press, which is tired of writing about the failures of ObamaCare, they can not only reframe events but reinvent reality.

I’m rather doubtful it will work. The debate over the ACA has gone from an abstract one to a real one, one negatively affecting the lives of millions upon of Americans. And when you have a facts-on-the-ground problem, as the president and his party do, spin and invoking banal talking points are ultimately of little use.

The president can postpone implementation of various parts of his law. But what he can’t postpone indefinitely is his and his party’s day of reckoning.

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Sebelius’s Dangerous Legacy of Incompetence and Deception

President Obama’s cheerleaders like to compare him to Abraham Lincoln. In most respects, this is a travesty that both inflates the meager accomplishments of our 44th president and demeans the heroic achievements of our 16th. But in seeking the right moment to dump Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after her shocking failures during the ObamaCare rollout, the president did take a page out of Lincoln’s handbook.

When Lincoln was thinking about the right moment to unveil the Emancipation Proclamation he told his Cabinet that it had to wait until after the Union won a victory over heretofore-ascendant rebel armies. Though the victory he seized upon for the announcement—the battle of Antietam—was really a bloody draw from which the Confederate army was allowed to escape, it was enough to provide cover for a great and historic act that was intensely controversial at the time. Similarly, President Obama knew that the necessary transition at HHS would have to wait until after the storm of criticism that had come down on Sebelius during the ObamaCare rollout had subsided. But after the administration was able to pump up the number of those enrolled in the program to the 7 million figure by the April 1 deadline, the president declared a victory in the battle over the unpopular program that was far shakier than even the Union’s claims after Antietam.

In announcing Sebelius’s departure and the appointment of Sylvia Matthews Burwell to succeed her at a White House pep rally today, the president continued the pretense that all is well is with ObamaCare and that Sebelius’s tenure at HHS was one of success achieved over immense odds because of the enrollment of over 7 million people in the program. But rarely has any single public official done more to undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of government to function than Kathleen Sebelius. Her incapacity to manage a huge federal bureaucracy was never exactly a secret prior to the October 1, 2013 rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, but from that date on, Sebelius’s out-of-touch leadership style gave new meaning to the term clueless. Her departure for the more competent Burwell is a relief even for those who oppose the president’s signature health-care legislation. But what she leaves behind will always stand as a warning to both presidents and their appointees about the damage they can do.

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President Obama’s cheerleaders like to compare him to Abraham Lincoln. In most respects, this is a travesty that both inflates the meager accomplishments of our 44th president and demeans the heroic achievements of our 16th. But in seeking the right moment to dump Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after her shocking failures during the ObamaCare rollout, the president did take a page out of Lincoln’s handbook.

When Lincoln was thinking about the right moment to unveil the Emancipation Proclamation he told his Cabinet that it had to wait until after the Union won a victory over heretofore-ascendant rebel armies. Though the victory he seized upon for the announcement—the battle of Antietam—was really a bloody draw from which the Confederate army was allowed to escape, it was enough to provide cover for a great and historic act that was intensely controversial at the time. Similarly, President Obama knew that the necessary transition at HHS would have to wait until after the storm of criticism that had come down on Sebelius during the ObamaCare rollout had subsided. But after the administration was able to pump up the number of those enrolled in the program to the 7 million figure by the April 1 deadline, the president declared a victory in the battle over the unpopular program that was far shakier than even the Union’s claims after Antietam.

In announcing Sebelius’s departure and the appointment of Sylvia Matthews Burwell to succeed her at a White House pep rally today, the president continued the pretense that all is well is with ObamaCare and that Sebelius’s tenure at HHS was one of success achieved over immense odds because of the enrollment of over 7 million people in the program. But rarely has any single public official done more to undermine the public’s confidence in the ability of government to function than Kathleen Sebelius. Her incapacity to manage a huge federal bureaucracy was never exactly a secret prior to the October 1, 2013 rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, but from that date on, Sebelius’s out-of-touch leadership style gave new meaning to the term clueless. Her departure for the more competent Burwell is a relief even for those who oppose the president’s signature health-care legislation. But what she leaves behind will always stand as a warning to both presidents and their appointees about the damage they can do.

In fairness to Sebelius, it must be noted that she was not the architect of ObamaCare. The president and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi deserve principle credit for the monstrosity that emerged from Congress in 2010. But her hands-off management led to disaster as she failed to alert the president to the fact that her department was simply nowhere near ready to launch the law in October. The result was the infamous Healthcare.gov website that made a laughingstock of Sebelius but also called into question the basic competence of the administration.

Of course, the real problem with ObamaCare was never the “glitchy” website but the entire concept of a government takeover of health care that would hurt as many, if not more, people than it helped. Yet Sebelius’s foolish confidence and stonewalling of Congress about the disaster will forever stick in the public consciousness as a symbolic of what can go wrong when a career politician is asked to do the job only a technocrat can deal with.

But there’s more to Sebelius’s legacy than incompetence. By refusing to tell the truth about how many of those being counted as enrollees (including the 20 percent of those who signed up on the website but never paid for their coverage) and by delaying much of the more unpopular aspects of the rollout until after this year’s midterm elections, Sebelius not only deepened the cynicism about the law but further undermined the credibility of the government. President Obama claimed today that the “final score speaks for itself” in terms of what Sebelius accomplished, but the real pain inflicted by this program and the massive dislocation in the health-care system as well as job losses and skyrocketing insurance costs that will be felt in the years to come will always be associated with Sebelius.

It should also be noted that by imposing an HHS mandate to force all employers, even those with religious objections, to pay for free contraception and abortion drugs (a provision that is not in the text of ObamaCare but was instead promulgated by her department), Sebelius struck a formidable blow against religious liberty that can only be repaired by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What occurred this year was no victory for health care, President Obama, or Kathleen Sebelius. But her legacy of incompetence and deception will live on long after her departure or even that of her boss.

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The Shrinking Mandate and Freedom

We won’t know the outcome of today’s hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court of the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius case, which tests the right of the government to impose a mandate forcing all businesses to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, until later this spring. As I wrote yesterday, the case is a crucial test for the future of religious freedom in this country since if the government prevails it will mean that persons of faith will be obligated to abandon their principles if they wish to participate in commerce. But though it is widely understood that this case is the byproduct of the ongoing fight about ObamaCare, what is not often pointed out is that President Obama’s favorite tactic in trying to soften the blow of his signature health-care law prior to the 2014 midterms highlights the hypocrisy of his administration’s arguments before the courts.

Over the course of the last year, the administration has granted numerous exemptions and delays to businesses and various types of individuals from having to comply with the law. As Politico reports today, the extent of how far the individual mandate has shrunk is astounding. The point of that exercise is to reduce the pain felt by both businesses and consumers in order to tamp down the general outrage about the law that has been growing since its passage. Democrats say these moves have just been a matter of common sense for a scheme that is in its infancy. But it is telling that the one exemption that the administration has never considered and is, in fact, willing to go to legal war over, is the mandate that is being resisted by Hobby Lobby and other companies with related lawsuits that are being decided by the high court. This is not merely a matter of political bias that can serve as a talking point about the case. As questions from the justices to Solicitor General Donald Verrelli indicated today, it goes directly to the argument put forward by the government that its purpose in compelling Hobby Lobby’s owners to discard their religious scruples constitutes the “least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest” as defined by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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We won’t know the outcome of today’s hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court of the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius case, which tests the right of the government to impose a mandate forcing all businesses to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, until later this spring. As I wrote yesterday, the case is a crucial test for the future of religious freedom in this country since if the government prevails it will mean that persons of faith will be obligated to abandon their principles if they wish to participate in commerce. But though it is widely understood that this case is the byproduct of the ongoing fight about ObamaCare, what is not often pointed out is that President Obama’s favorite tactic in trying to soften the blow of his signature health-care law prior to the 2014 midterms highlights the hypocrisy of his administration’s arguments before the courts.

Over the course of the last year, the administration has granted numerous exemptions and delays to businesses and various types of individuals from having to comply with the law. As Politico reports today, the extent of how far the individual mandate has shrunk is astounding. The point of that exercise is to reduce the pain felt by both businesses and consumers in order to tamp down the general outrage about the law that has been growing since its passage. Democrats say these moves have just been a matter of common sense for a scheme that is in its infancy. But it is telling that the one exemption that the administration has never considered and is, in fact, willing to go to legal war over, is the mandate that is being resisted by Hobby Lobby and other companies with related lawsuits that are being decided by the high court. This is not merely a matter of political bias that can serve as a talking point about the case. As questions from the justices to Solicitor General Donald Verrelli indicated today, it goes directly to the argument put forward by the government that its purpose in compelling Hobby Lobby’s owners to discard their religious scruples constitutes the “least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest” as defined by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

That the government has never sought to relieve companies of the burden imposed by the Health and Human Services Department mandate is important because of the vast array of other exemptions that it has shown itself willing to countenance. President Obama has played fast and loose with his constitutional obligations to enforce the laws of the land with unilateral decisions that various aspects of the bill he signed into law could be postponed or ignored. This selective enforcement undermines arguments about a “compelling government interest.” Since Hobby Lobby is facing fines of $1.3 million per day for its refusal to pay for services that offend the consciences and the religious beliefs of its owners or over $26 million per year if it dropped coverage altogether, there is no question that it is being placed under a substantial burden.

The government’s arguments are already vague about its justification for this decision. The red herrings about women’s rights and health-care costs that are put forward by administration cheerleaders obscure the fact that no one’s rights or access to contraception is being denied by Hobby Lobby. Nor is there any substance to arguments that owners of for-profit businesses lose their First Amendment rights when they incorporate or engage in commerce. As Gabriel Malor writes in a compelling summary of the myths that Hobby Lobby opponents have propagated at TheFederalist.com:

It is not a radical departure from the norm for businesses to pick and choose what health coverage they provide. In fact, that was the norm for decades. What was new and harmful and possibly part of a slippery slope to lawlesssness was the decision of Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius to impose her will on businesses, for the first time demanding that they provide morally objectionable coverage or face crippling penalties.

As Malor also writes, the notion that there is a compelling government interest in forcing Hobby Lobby to bend to the will of the administration is undermined by the fact that:

Sebelius has already exempted 190 million people from the contraception mandate, either because they work for non-profit corporations or because their plans were “grandfathered” when ObamaCare became effective.

Under these circumstances with widespread exemptions the arguments in favor of the government aren’t merely exposed as constitutionally weak but a demonstration of the administration’s hostility to religious believers who disagree with the mandate. A nation that values religious freedom less than it does Barack Obama’s political calculations is one that is abandoning the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion.

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New ObamaCare Losers: Public Employees

Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius mocked the idea that ObamaCare is costing people their jobs. Sebelius even went so far as to say that “every economist will you tell you” that there is no evidence of job loss. According to her, the whole idea of economic suffering related to the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a “myth.” While that kind of hyperbole is easily exposed (Every economist? Really?), ObamaCare critics don’t need to beat the bushes to find conservative economists to counter that assertion. All they need to do is to read today’s New York Times.

The number of those who have already been hurt by ObamaCare are legion, including millions of individual purchasers of insurance who have lost their coverage or been denied the ability to keep their doctors in spite of President Obama’s promise to the contrary. But it’s long been accepted that the employer mandate will eventually reduce the number of full-time workers because of new rules about coverage requirements. Yet it turns out that those affected are not just employees at small or mid-sized companies. The impact on one of President Obama’s key support group turns out to be just as bad. As the New York Times reports:

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say.

The cuts to public sector employment, which has failed to rebound since the recession, could serve as a powerful political weapon for Republican critics of the health care law, who claim that it is creating a drain on the economy.

President Obama has twice delayed enforcement of the health care law’s employer mandate, which would subject larger employers to tax penalties if they do not offer insurance coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week, on average. But many public employers have already adopted policies, laws or regulations to make sure workers stay under that threshold.

Sebelius was as wrong about the question of ObamaCare’s impact on employment as she was about the rollout of the law’s website. But the problem for the administration isn’t just a credibility gap that was already as big as the Grand Canyon. It’s that the ranks of ObamaCare losers are now growing and being filled by people that are the backbone of the Democratic Party. That means the real myth about ObamaCare is the assumption that once it goes into effect it will be transformed from an unpopular law to a beloved national institution like Social Security.

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Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius mocked the idea that ObamaCare is costing people their jobs. Sebelius even went so far as to say that “every economist will you tell you” that there is no evidence of job loss. According to her, the whole idea of economic suffering related to the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a “myth.” While that kind of hyperbole is easily exposed (Every economist? Really?), ObamaCare critics don’t need to beat the bushes to find conservative economists to counter that assertion. All they need to do is to read today’s New York Times.

The number of those who have already been hurt by ObamaCare are legion, including millions of individual purchasers of insurance who have lost their coverage or been denied the ability to keep their doctors in spite of President Obama’s promise to the contrary. But it’s long been accepted that the employer mandate will eventually reduce the number of full-time workers because of new rules about coverage requirements. Yet it turns out that those affected are not just employees at small or mid-sized companies. The impact on one of President Obama’s key support group turns out to be just as bad. As the New York Times reports:

Cities, counties, public schools and community colleges around the country have limited or reduced the work hours of part-time employees to avoid having to provide them with health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, state and local officials say.

The cuts to public sector employment, which has failed to rebound since the recession, could serve as a powerful political weapon for Republican critics of the health care law, who claim that it is creating a drain on the economy.

President Obama has twice delayed enforcement of the health care law’s employer mandate, which would subject larger employers to tax penalties if they do not offer insurance coverage to employees who work at least 30 hours a week, on average. But many public employers have already adopted policies, laws or regulations to make sure workers stay under that threshold.

Sebelius was as wrong about the question of ObamaCare’s impact on employment as she was about the rollout of the law’s website. But the problem for the administration isn’t just a credibility gap that was already as big as the Grand Canyon. It’s that the ranks of ObamaCare losers are now growing and being filled by people that are the backbone of the Democratic Party. That means the real myth about ObamaCare is the assumption that once it goes into effect it will be transformed from an unpopular law to a beloved national institution like Social Security.

The findings of the Times report validate the conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office study released earlier this month on the impact of ObamaCare on employment. Though administration figures like Sebelius have been orchestrating a campaign seeking to deny these facts, the Times story illustrates the futility of this effort. Municipalities and public institutions around the country have been cutting the hours of their workers in order to avoid paying for their health care. Thus even though the point of the Affordable Care Act was to get more people covered, the unintended consequence of its passage was to cut the pay as well as deprive a significant population of public-sector workers of their chance to get insurance from their employer.

As the article notes, public workers are being especially hard hit because municipal employers can’t pass along the increased costs of the insurance mandates to consumers the way private companies can try to do. Instead, they must cut down on the number of those they employ. But rather than reduce the ranks of those public employees getting expensive benefits and pensions that often are far more generous than those received by the taxpayers who pay their salaries, the people losing out in the ObamaCare squeeze are those at the bottom end of the wage scale.

These findings once again point out the problem with the administration’s belief that their ObamaCare troubles are merely the result of a rough rollout and will soon disappear. It is true that millions of Americans who are either poor or have pre-existing medical conditions will be net winners as a result of ObamaCare. But unlike government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, ObamaCare has also created a vast number of net losers who are losing coverage, losing jobs, or getting their hours and possible benefits cut.

The fact that a large number of those losers are members of a demographic that is a key element of the Democratic base is a potential political disaster for the president’s party. Rather than going away as the midterms approach, if the Times is to be believed, it is getting worse. In this case, the Democratic focus on income inequality appears to be pertinent. But rather than being able to blame the plight of low-income workers on the wealthy or the Republicans, it is President Obama’s signature accomplishment that is to blame.

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Latest Exemption Shows OCare Unraveling

Only a few months ago, the White House and Democrats scoffed when Republicans suggested that the implementation of ObamaCare be postponed in order for the government to understand exactly what it was foisting upon the country. Nothing could stop the administration’s determination to roll out the president’s signature health-care legislation on time. All liberals and some conservatives as well were convinced that once it began, the debate about its wisdom would cease as the extension of benefits would make it as universally popular as Social Security and Medicare. But though the White House is still insisting that all will come right in the end, they may be wishing they had taken the GOP’s offer. In the latest example of the problems the administration has encountered in trying to make ObamaCare work, it announced late yesterday that yet another aspect of the law will be delayed. As the New York Times reports:

Millions of people facing the cancellation of health insurance policies will be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage and will be exempt from penalties if they go without insurance next year, the White House said Thursday night.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed the sudden policy shift in a letter to Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and five other senators. It was another effort by President Obama to cushion the impact of the health care law and minimize political damage to himself and Democrats in Congress who adopted the law in 2010 over solid Republican opposition.

The decision is an attempt to shield Democrats from voter outrage about the impact of the law until after the 2014 midterm elections. But while beleaguered Democrats are happy of any reprieve, however belated, the decision comes too late to avoid adding to the general public impression of the rollout as a disaster that doesn’t seem to get better despite repeated White House promises that the worst is behind them. Taken as a whole, the list of exemptions and delays in the implementation of the misnamed Affordable Care Act is leaving the country asking what exactly were all the geniuses in the West Wing and the Department of Health and Human Services doing during the two years between the bill’s passage and the start of this fiasco?

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Only a few months ago, the White House and Democrats scoffed when Republicans suggested that the implementation of ObamaCare be postponed in order for the government to understand exactly what it was foisting upon the country. Nothing could stop the administration’s determination to roll out the president’s signature health-care legislation on time. All liberals and some conservatives as well were convinced that once it began, the debate about its wisdom would cease as the extension of benefits would make it as universally popular as Social Security and Medicare. But though the White House is still insisting that all will come right in the end, they may be wishing they had taken the GOP’s offer. In the latest example of the problems the administration has encountered in trying to make ObamaCare work, it announced late yesterday that yet another aspect of the law will be delayed. As the New York Times reports:

Millions of people facing the cancellation of health insurance policies will be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage and will be exempt from penalties if they go without insurance next year, the White House said Thursday night.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed the sudden policy shift in a letter to Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and five other senators. It was another effort by President Obama to cushion the impact of the health care law and minimize political damage to himself and Democrats in Congress who adopted the law in 2010 over solid Republican opposition.

The decision is an attempt to shield Democrats from voter outrage about the impact of the law until after the 2014 midterm elections. But while beleaguered Democrats are happy of any reprieve, however belated, the decision comes too late to avoid adding to the general public impression of the rollout as a disaster that doesn’t seem to get better despite repeated White House promises that the worst is behind them. Taken as a whole, the list of exemptions and delays in the implementation of the misnamed Affordable Care Act is leaving the country asking what exactly were all the geniuses in the West Wing and the Department of Health and Human Services doing during the two years between the bill’s passage and the start of this fiasco?

The list of ObamaCare delays is impressive. As the Times noted in the conclusion of their article about the latest one:

The move Thursday followed delays in many other parts of the health care law.

On July 2, the White House abruptly announced a one-year delay, until 2015, in a provision that requires larger employers to offer coverage to their workers or pay penalties. 

On Nov. 27, it deferred a major element of the law that would allow small businesses to buy insurance online for their employees through the federal exchange.

Earlier, in April, the administration said that the federal exchange would not offer employees of a small business the opportunity to choose from multiple health plans in 2014.

And in October 2011, the administration scrapped a long-term care insurance program created by the new law, saying it was too costly and would not work.

Each of these moves, if taken in isolation, might be defended as the exception to the rule of a smooth rollout. But taken together, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that what we are witnessing is the slow-motion unraveling of a hubristic and complicated big government plan whose consequences weren’t fully thought out by an administration whose sole focus was putting it in place before it could be stopped by Republicans.

But the problem here is more than just a matter of perceptions, though the decision not to mention the move during a press briefing yesterday and then to reveal it later in what was obviously an end-of-week news dump shows the administration knows all too well how badly they are losing the battle to brand their plan as anything but a costly failure. By waiting until only days before the deadline for consumers to purchase insurance without facing a fine, the government burned those who previously purchased more costly and often unwanted plans. It also is a slap at insurance companies that were forced to cancel the plans that millions of Americans preferred as a result of the ObamaCare fiat.

While the belated move will help some, it also makes it a given that, as Republicans have predicted for months, the number of Americans who lost their coverage as a result of ObamaCare will far exceed the number of those who signed up for the ACA via the government or the state exchanges. It now is highly unlikely that there will be anything like the number of people in the program that will be needed to make the plan work. Without vast numbers of younger, healthy people or former individual insurance consumers in the exchanges, there won’t be enough in it to pay for the elderly, poor, or those with pre-existing conditions that the plan was designed to help. That means that those who have been sucked into it will likely face far higher costs than the already expensive plans and exorbitant deductibles than even the government was planning to provide:

Insurers, already struggling with problems caused by the chaotic debut of the federal insurance exchange in October, expressed surprise and dismay.

“This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers,” said Karen M. Ignagni, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.

Another insurance executive said that insurers had not expected a significant number of people over 30 to enroll in catastrophic plans, so their costs were not factored into the premiums.

Moreover, the executive said, the exemptions undermine the requirement for people to have coverage. That requirement, often called an individual mandate, is needed to guarantee that insurers attract young healthy people to help offset the costs of covering older Americans who require more medical care, insurers say.

Democrats continue to insist that once the bumps are smoothed out opposition will cease. But as we continue to learn, the problem with ObamaCare isn’t just a website that crashes or the lies that the president and his supporters were forced to tell Americans about the impact of the plan before it was passed. It’s that the scheme itself, which imposes government dictates on the private sector, simply wasn’t properly thought out before it was drafted or implemented. Had the president been honest and told the American people that it was a redistributionist plan that would hurt as many, if not more citizens than it helped, it would never have passed even on a straight party line vote.

More such announcements as the one handed down yesterday won’t convince the public that ObamaCare wasn’t a liberal nightmare that should never have been tried. Republicans will be asked, as they should, how they can deal with the problem of the uninsured or those with pre-existing conditions. But Democrats up for reelection anywhere but in the most blue of districts and states will continue to distance themselves from a bill that is now synonymous with incompetence. As the number of ObamaCare losers continues to grow while the ranks of those who have joined it continue to fall below expectations, the prospect of having to face the voters next year must chill the president’s party.

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The Bureaucracy on Autopilot

On October 22, Kathleen Sebelius gave an interview to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta about the disastrous ObamaCare rollout, especially the “glitch”-plagued Healthcare.gov. What she told CNN was that President Obama was not aware of the problems with the site–“despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run,” CNN added–until after the website launched.

How involved the president was on his signature health-care legislation became a subject of interest, since Sebelius was obviously trying to absolve her boss of blame for the project’s massive failures. So it was Sebelius’s fault, then? Well, not exactly, according to those who wished to either clear Sebelius’s name or paint her as an a out-of-touch apparatchik, depending on your interpretation. The day of her CNN interview the New York Times ran a story on Sebelius’s involvement in the project:

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On October 22, Kathleen Sebelius gave an interview to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta about the disastrous ObamaCare rollout, especially the “glitch”-plagued Healthcare.gov. What she told CNN was that President Obama was not aware of the problems with the site–“despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run,” CNN added–until after the website launched.

How involved the president was on his signature health-care legislation became a subject of interest, since Sebelius was obviously trying to absolve her boss of blame for the project’s massive failures. So it was Sebelius’s fault, then? Well, not exactly, according to those who wished to either clear Sebelius’s name or paint her as an a out-of-touch apparatchik, depending on your interpretation. The day of her CNN interview the New York Times ran a story on Sebelius’s involvement in the project:

Republicans insist the buck stops with the secretary. But although Ms. Sebelius runs the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency directly responsible for the health care law, there are questions about how deeply she was involved in the development of the troubled Web site.

“Kathleen has the title, but she doesn’t have the responsibility or in many respects the kind of wide authority and access to the president that she really needs to make a difference,” said one person close to Ms. Sebelius and the White House, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal decision-making. “Everybody thinks that she’s the driving force, but unfortunately she’s not.”

Just who is steering this ship? Your guess is as good as Obama’s. Part of this is strategic, as I wrote last month: the president’s pursuit of plausible deniability at all costs often crowds out responsible decision making. But another part has to do with what Glenn Thrush writes about for the debut cover story of Politico Magazine. The president has sidelined his Cabinet to a degree that is unprecedented, according to Thrush.

In his fairly successful quest to have the media portray his Cabinet of like-minded mediocrities as a “team of rivals,” Obama wanted these heavy hitters to be seen and not heard. They were there to show the press that they were there. See how bipartisan Obama is? He has Ray LaHood serving as his secretary of transportation. See how much of a unifier the president is? He has asked two of his opponents in the nominating contest to serve as his vice president and his secretary of state. See how willing he is to be challenged intellectually? He has Nobel laureate Steven Chu as his energy secretary.

But these secretaries didn’t realize the president wanted them solely as decorative tree ornaments. So when Chu made a politically clumsy remark while giving a talk in Trinidad and Tobago during a trip abroad with administration figures, Rahm Emanuel, then the president’s chief of staff, called political advisor Jim Messina with a message: “If you don’t kill [Chu], I’m going to.”

Thrush reports:

For any modern president, the advantages of hoarding power in the White House at the expense of the Cabinet are obvious—from more efficient internal communication and better control of external messaging to avoiding messy confirmation battles and protecting against pesky congressional subpoenas. But over the course of his five years in office, Obama has taken this White House tendency to an extreme, according to more than 50 interviews with current and former secretaries, White House staffers and executive branch officials, who described his Cabinet as a restless nest of ambition, fits-and-starts achievement and power-jockeying under a shadow of unfulfilled promise.

That’s a far cry from the vision Obama sketched out in the months leading up to his 2008 election. Back then, he waxed expansive about the Cabinet, promising to rejuvenate the institution as a venue for serious innovation and genuine decision making. “I don’t want to have people who just agree with me,” he told Time magazine, after reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s classic account of President Abraham Lincoln and his advisers, Team of Rivals. “I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone.”

Obama, many of his associates now concede, never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone. While he personally recruited stars such as Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, most other picks for his first Cabinet were made by his staff, with less involvement from the president. “[Bill] Clinton spent almost all of his time picking the Cabinet at the expense of the White House staff; Obama made the opposite mistake,” says a person close to both presidents.

The most revealing part of that is not that Obama “never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone.” That much was obvious to anyone not in the tank for the president. Rather, it’s that the fact that he “never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone” is now clear even to those close to the president. He didn’t want to be challenged after all, they realized only too late.

And it was a learning experience for Obama too. So he downgraded in his second term to people like John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, the yes-men Obama always wanted. And so, it is no surprise that his agenda is in tatters, especially the disaster that is ObamaCare thus far. And it’s also no surprise that no one knows precisely who to blame, though the buck should really stop with the president. The bureaucracy is running on autopilot, and it’s running aground.

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Obama’s Lies Will Continue to Haunt Him

Disingenuous. That’s the word President Obama used yesterday in Boston to describe those who are calling him out for promising Americans they could keep their existing health-care plans if they liked them. Rather than merely acknowledging that his repeated pledge came with a huge, unmentioned asterisk that was kept under wraps until it was passed and then about to be implemented, the president refused to give an inch. He asserted that not only has he kept his word despite the obvious fact that millions of Americans cannot keep the coverage they had in the age of ObamaCare whether they liked it or not, but that those who have pointed this out are the ones who are fibbing. The president believes he can get away with this because after five years in office during which the mainstream media has applauded his every move and ignored or rationalized his every misstep, why should he think it would be any different now?

But though the president may not be admitting it, the foundation of this complacent mendacity in the White House echo chamber may be crumbling. Even CNN, which has been home to many reliable Obama cheerleaders, is  beginning to catch on to the problem. When Jake Tapper — a relative newcomer to the network — interviewed a former House Democratic staffer who favored ObamaCare but who nonetheless was dismayed about how the changes it wrought had increased her insurance costs, a critical point was passed. The Washington Post‘s fact-checker column awarded the president four “Pinocchios” (the most egregious lie rating) yesterday. Even MSNBC hosts are admitting that an untruth was told even if they don’t think it’s a particularly big deal. No wonder the polls are showing that Obama’s boost from the government shutdown has quickly evaporated. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows his approval rating down to 42 percent, an all-time low and within shouting distance of the abysmal 39 percent rating that George W. Bush had at the same point in his second term after the Hurricane Katrina fiasco. The president and minions like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may think they can brazen out this crisis, but as more evidence is uncovered to show that the administration knew that Obama’s promises were lies, those numbers may sink even further.

As Avik Roy reports at Forbes, it turns out that as far back as 2010, when ObamaCare was passed, federal officials were already aware that the bill would cause a massive disruption of the existing insurance market. As Roy writes:

If you read the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, you knew that it was dishonest for President Obama to claim that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” as he did—and continues to do—on countless occasions. And we now know that the administration knew this all along. 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.

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Disingenuous. That’s the word President Obama used yesterday in Boston to describe those who are calling him out for promising Americans they could keep their existing health-care plans if they liked them. Rather than merely acknowledging that his repeated pledge came with a huge, unmentioned asterisk that was kept under wraps until it was passed and then about to be implemented, the president refused to give an inch. He asserted that not only has he kept his word despite the obvious fact that millions of Americans cannot keep the coverage they had in the age of ObamaCare whether they liked it or not, but that those who have pointed this out are the ones who are fibbing. The president believes he can get away with this because after five years in office during which the mainstream media has applauded his every move and ignored or rationalized his every misstep, why should he think it would be any different now?

But though the president may not be admitting it, the foundation of this complacent mendacity in the White House echo chamber may be crumbling. Even CNN, which has been home to many reliable Obama cheerleaders, is  beginning to catch on to the problem. When Jake Tapper — a relative newcomer to the network — interviewed a former House Democratic staffer who favored ObamaCare but who nonetheless was dismayed about how the changes it wrought had increased her insurance costs, a critical point was passed. The Washington Post‘s fact-checker column awarded the president four “Pinocchios” (the most egregious lie rating) yesterday. Even MSNBC hosts are admitting that an untruth was told even if they don’t think it’s a particularly big deal. No wonder the polls are showing that Obama’s boost from the government shutdown has quickly evaporated. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows his approval rating down to 42 percent, an all-time low and within shouting distance of the abysmal 39 percent rating that George W. Bush had at the same point in his second term after the Hurricane Katrina fiasco. The president and minions like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may think they can brazen out this crisis, but as more evidence is uncovered to show that the administration knew that Obama’s promises were lies, those numbers may sink even further.

As Avik Roy reports at Forbes, it turns out that as far back as 2010, when ObamaCare was passed, federal officials were already aware that the bill would cause a massive disruption of the existing insurance market. As Roy writes:

If you read the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, you knew that it was dishonest for President Obama to claim that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” as he did—and continues to do—on countless occasions. And we now know that the administration knew this all along. 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.

Roy goes on to detail the massive scale of these changes that were dismissed this week by White House press spokesman Jay Carney as affecting only a tiny percentage of Americans:

“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.

The president’s chutzpah about his broken health-care promise is impressive. He claims that even though you can’t necessarily keep the coverage you’ve got, if you’re sore about it, it is only because shyster insurance companies sold you a “substandard” plan. Since Obama and his federal bureaucrats know best, that means you have to buy a new plan that may cost a lot more for coverage of possible claims that you might never make. Though he hides behind a technicality that any plan bought after the passage of ObamaCare wasn’t covered by the promise, he also ignores the fact that he continued to repeat the claim with no ifs, ands, buts, or disclaimers for years afterward. That was deception, pure and simple.

But in this White House, telling the truth about administration promises and behavior is simply not allowed. So Obama and Sebelius spent the day spinning rather than confessing. They keep saying that the only responsible thing to do is to help improve ObamaCare rather than to wreck it, but the foundation of any possible reform must be honesty about what went wrong and the fraudulent sales pitch that was used to help shove it down the throat of a reluctant Congress via legislative trickery.

The administration’s credibility gap is huge and growing larger every day that the president continues to lie about his lies. And like every other past administration with a truth problem, the people in the West Wing don’t seem to understand that everybody but them and their most fervent supporters aren’t buying it anymore.

Some Democrats were dismayed that many of the House Republican questioners of Sebelius ignored the disastrous ObamaCare website problems and instead focused on the broken promises and the hardship they are causing many Americans. A president who has started to lose his loyal media cheerleaders and sinking in the polls needs to do better than to stick with a lie that has already been widely exposed. No matter how loudly the president proclaims his virtue and attempts to deflect charges of false statements onto his critics, this story isn’t going away. 

UPDATE:

In this piece, I originally referred to some of the normally reliable cheerleaders for the president Obama on CNN. I then followed it with a mention of Jake Tapper and his report on a dissatisfied ObamaCare customer. The juxtaposition could easily have been understood as accusing Tapper, who is a relative newcomer on the network, as being one of those cheerleaders. That was not my intent. But as originally written it did Tapper, who is a fair and dogged reporter, a disservice. For that I apologize. We need more reporters and network anchors like him.

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Cost-Free Accountability

A post-script to yesterday’s congressional testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: In response to a question, she said, “Hold me accountable for the [federal health-care exchange] debacle. I’m responsible.”

This is among the oldest tricks in the book–to say you’re the responsible party as a way to avoid being held accountable. The words are meaningless. What exactly does holding her accountable mean? That she resign? Not a chance. That she be reprimanded by the president? No way. She has his “full confidence.” Nothing is different after her testimony than before it.

This is cost-free accountability.

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A post-script to yesterday’s congressional testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: In response to a question, she said, “Hold me accountable for the [federal health-care exchange] debacle. I’m responsible.”

This is among the oldest tricks in the book–to say you’re the responsible party as a way to avoid being held accountable. The words are meaningless. What exactly does holding her accountable mean? That she resign? Not a chance. That she be reprimanded by the president? No way. She has his “full confidence.” Nothing is different after her testimony than before it.

This is cost-free accountability.

What Secretary Sebelius is doing is making our society less, not more, accountable. How? By creating an Orwellian world in which asking to be held responsible for a massive error is the best and easiest way to duck responsibility for overseeing a massive error. And perhaps getting some credit in the process.

Secretary Sebelius certainly isn’t the first person to do this, and it’s a game played by people in both parties. It is, in fact, a common, if unadmirable, human trait.

So a modest suggestion: Let’s insist that from now on anyone who publicly asks to be held accountable is held accountable. That actions follow words. That the request to be held responsible is actually met. 

I’m not under any illusions that this wouldn’t stop debacles from occurring. But at least it would keep us from playing this ridiculous game and which everyone knows is a game. Especially Kathleen Sebelius. 

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Sebelius and the Arrogance of Power

At one point early in her appearance before a House committee this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the country a moment of clarity in response to a question. “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.” Yet almost every other thing she said in her testimony was aimed not only at evading her own responsibility for the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare but also to obfuscate the lies the administration has told about the program as well as the utter lack of accountability about the expenditure of vast sums on a website that is not only dysfunctional but insecure.

The most egregious of her comments was to claim in an exchange with Rep. Joseph Pitts that “the website has never crashed.” Ironically, at the very moment that she was saying this, the website had crashed. That sort of denial is almost clinical in nature. But what was most telling about Sebelius’s performance was not so much the ongoing denial that uncounted millions are losing the coverage they were told they could keep or her difficulty in answering any detailed questions about why the website had been so poorly designed or why her department had failed to supervise the project adequately or account for its lack of functionality or security. Instead, it was the arrogant, cavalier nature of her responses to questions about the debacle.

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At one point early in her appearance before a House committee this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the country a moment of clarity in response to a question. “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.” Yet almost every other thing she said in her testimony was aimed not only at evading her own responsibility for the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare but also to obfuscate the lies the administration has told about the program as well as the utter lack of accountability about the expenditure of vast sums on a website that is not only dysfunctional but insecure.

The most egregious of her comments was to claim in an exchange with Rep. Joseph Pitts that “the website has never crashed.” Ironically, at the very moment that she was saying this, the website had crashed. That sort of denial is almost clinical in nature. But what was most telling about Sebelius’s performance was not so much the ongoing denial that uncounted millions are losing the coverage they were told they could keep or her difficulty in answering any detailed questions about why the website had been so poorly designed or why her department had failed to supervise the project adequately or account for its lack of functionality or security. Instead, it was the arrogant, cavalier nature of her responses to questions about the debacle.

Sebelius came to the committee with plenty of notice after delaying her appearance by a week, but arrived armed with no firm answers on how the website problems had occurred, why the preparations for it were inadequate, and how her team had failed to note the questions that had been raised about its ability to function. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, but no one in Sebelius’s department appears to have been capable of briefing her on this or even to supply simple answers to questions about the decision-making process that allowed the debacle to proceed. She tried to portray herself as a remote spectator to the process that led to the debacle even as she sought to pretend that she was the one to blame.

Sebelius contradicted herself almost continually. At one point she blamed crashes on Verizon and other times, as she told Pitts, she claimed there were no crashes. She claimed 700,000 persons had been enrolled, but when pressed for details about the numbers, she said that the website problems meant there was no reliable data to report. She said at one point that the problems would be fixed by November 30 but then qualified that to say that what we could expect was merely a gradual improvement with no end date at which all problems would be resolved.

Yet the consistent theme of her testimony was that a program the entire country knows is malfunctioning was working just fine. The cost increases and plan cancellations that so many Americans were facing in the coming months were mere technicalities. She denied that she and the president had lied about people keeping their coverage but then said that those who had lost their plans should just “go shopping.”

Sebelius could barely contain her contempt for the questions Republicans asked her about these points (since almost all the Democrats on the committee used their time to merely criticize the GOP for talking about the problems). Her eye rolling and barely concealed impatience with demands for accountability never stopped. While this was a stylistic failure, it betrayed more about ObamaCare and the spirit with which it is being imposed on the country than she may have thought.

ObamaCare was a bill that was rammed through Congress on a partisan vote in which the normal legislative process was ignored and questions were swept under the rug. It was sold to the public with lies and it is now being implemented in a fashion that is hurting at least as many citizens as those it is supposed to help. But at no point in this process has the administration shown itself willing to listen to the people being inconvenienced or harmed or even, as Sebelius repeated today, to give an exemption or a delay in the personal mandate as a result of the website debacle.

In a perverse way this makes sense, since it is in keeping with the top-down spirit of this attempt to have the government begin the process of taking over American health care. In the view of the president and Sebelius, the lies and the failures are mere details that are insignificant when compared to their ambitions and what they believe are their good intentions.

There is no better example of the arrogance of unchecked power than this legislation and the manner in which its authors have foisted it upon the country. While a divided Congress is unlikely to hold Sebelius or the administration accountable for this, it will be up to the American people to remember this awful, arrogant performance and the huge credibility gap of this administration the next chance they have to hold Washington, if not Sebelius, accountable.

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Make ObamaCare’s Failure the Story

Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

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Former Bush press secretary and current Fox News host Dana Perino has some good advice for House Republicans planning on questioning beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week: don’t be jerks. That’s the short version of a piece she ran on the Fox News website today and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee should take her five tips to heart when Sebelius comes before them on Wednesday. But the hearing is more than just an opportunity for the much-reviled House GOP to prove they can appear in public without making fools of themselves. After Saturday Night Live’s deft satire of Sebelius this past weekend, the secretary has already been elevated from an obscure former Kansas governor to a national laughing-stock. What Republicans need to do now is not only, as Perino points out, avoid making her look sympathetic but to start focusing on how this happened as well as the major ObamaCare problems that go far beyond a dysfunctional website.

As John Steele Gordon previously noted, the Daily Caller’s story published last week about the identity of the company that was given the contract to build Healthcare.gov raises tantalizing questions about whether this was just another sweetheart deal to an Obama contributor, not to mention the possible ties of one of its chief officers to the first lady. Congress should not ignore these leads, but neither should they be overplayed in a high-handed manner. As Perino writes, the committee members should act like they know what they’re talking about instead of just spouting and wind up making viewers feel sorry for Sebelius; they should come armed with facts, “bottle the fake outrage,” channel the frustration of conservatives about this boondoggle, and be able to say what they’re for as well as what they’re against.

But we also need to move beyond the website problem to the dire consequences for many Americans of what happens once this legislation is put into action. The president promised the country no one would lose the plans they already had or have their costs go up. We already know that isn’t true. Policies are being cancelled because they don’t meet ObamaCare’s specifications, forcing many Americans to buy new plans with theoretically better coverage but also at much higher prices. Indeed, at this point, it may well be that more people have lost their existing coverage than have signed up for ObamaCare.

For the past few months, the main story in American politics was what seemed to be the obsessive determination on the part of Republicans to obstruct ObamaCare. Now, thanks to a website that demonstrated anew the incapacity of Democrats and the government they worship to run a complicated sector of the economy, the GOP is getting a second chance to show the country what they were up in arms about. But if the confrontation with Sebelius turns into a circus that will allow the media to claim the Republicans are playing games, it will allow the architects of this disaster to slither out of peril.

The best indicator of the administration’s vulnerability is that for the first time it looks like Democrats may be abandoning the president’s sinking ship. Whereas congressional Democrats have heretofore loyally stuck with the health-care legislation in the past, the fact that ten Senate Democrats signed onto New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s letter calling for a delay in the deadline for open enrollment demonstrates that we may be almost at the tipping point for this issue. While we can expect many congressional Democrats to stick to their “fix it, don’t nix it” mantra, the GOP has to leave some room for some fair-minded members of Obama’s party to chime in on the outrage over incompetence and possible corruption. But if Republicans flub their bout with Sebelius, that chance may be wasted.

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Is It Wrong to Root for ObamaCare to Fail?

As Democrats attempt to deflect the torrent of criticism coming their way in the wake of an ObamaCare rollout that was an undeniable fiasco, one of their key talking points centers around an attempt to blame it all on mean Republicans who can’t let go of their opposition of the president’s signature legislation. As liberal blogger Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post, there’s a certain cognitive dissonance involved when those who actually want to repeal a piece of legislation complain that it is being incompetently administered. Maybe so. However, the implication coming from many of the administration’s defenders is that there’s something inappropriate if not unpatriotic about anyone wanting the government to fail. It’s almost as if they’re saying that hoping for ObamaCare to crash and burn is like rooting against the U.S. Marines if you didn’t happen to approve of the president’s decision to send them to fight in a particular war. After all, we all follow the flag and support our troops no matter what we think of the commander in chief or his policies. Or at least we should.

But ObamaCare is not the moral equivalent of an unpopular war. It’s a massive government program whose implementation infringes on the liberty of citizens (forcing them to purchase a product they may or may not want), taxing them in the form of penalties, and expanding the scope of government interference in a major industry and almost certainly damaging the economy. ObamaCare may not fail in the sense that it is theoretically possible that the administration will eventually figure out how to run a website, implement its provisions, and enforce it, though, given its track record, that is far from a given.

But those who believe it to be a wrongheaded and dangerous scheme are fully within their rights to hope that it collapses of its own weight long before it becomes part of the basic infrastructure of the federal leviathan. Indeed, conservative arguments against it have always centered, at least in part, on the fact that government simply hasn’t the competence to run health care and should not be allowed to try. Why should we blame them for saying “I told you so” as they toast the hard work of Kathleen Sebelius and the rest of the president’s minions to prove them right?

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As Democrats attempt to deflect the torrent of criticism coming their way in the wake of an ObamaCare rollout that was an undeniable fiasco, one of their key talking points centers around an attempt to blame it all on mean Republicans who can’t let go of their opposition of the president’s signature legislation. As liberal blogger Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post, there’s a certain cognitive dissonance involved when those who actually want to repeal a piece of legislation complain that it is being incompetently administered. Maybe so. However, the implication coming from many of the administration’s defenders is that there’s something inappropriate if not unpatriotic about anyone wanting the government to fail. It’s almost as if they’re saying that hoping for ObamaCare to crash and burn is like rooting against the U.S. Marines if you didn’t happen to approve of the president’s decision to send them to fight in a particular war. After all, we all follow the flag and support our troops no matter what we think of the commander in chief or his policies. Or at least we should.

But ObamaCare is not the moral equivalent of an unpopular war. It’s a massive government program whose implementation infringes on the liberty of citizens (forcing them to purchase a product they may or may not want), taxing them in the form of penalties, and expanding the scope of government interference in a major industry and almost certainly damaging the economy. ObamaCare may not fail in the sense that it is theoretically possible that the administration will eventually figure out how to run a website, implement its provisions, and enforce it, though, given its track record, that is far from a given.

But those who believe it to be a wrongheaded and dangerous scheme are fully within their rights to hope that it collapses of its own weight long before it becomes part of the basic infrastructure of the federal leviathan. Indeed, conservative arguments against it have always centered, at least in part, on the fact that government simply hasn’t the competence to run health care and should not be allowed to try. Why should we blame them for saying “I told you so” as they toast the hard work of Kathleen Sebelius and the rest of the president’s minions to prove them right?

In claiming that Republicans are wrong to root against ObamaCare, Democrats also attempt to spin this as a heartless attempt to rip health insurance from the hands of the needy. From this point of view, the plight of those who stand to benefit from the plan are analogous to the spilled blood of Americans fighting for their country while Republicans sit on their hands. But again this is nonsense. Republicans, in particular Rep. Paul Ryan, had their own plans for expanding health coverage without creating the vast structure of ObamaCare. Since they believe that the president’s bill was not only poorly written but bound to cause as much if not more harm to the rest of the country (like those who are losing their jobs due to companies cutting back in reaction to the prospect of the government enforcing the employer mandate), what they are doing is nothing more than advocacy for an alternative to legislation that remains as unpopular today as it was when the president forced it down the country’s throat on a partisan vote enabled by legislative trickery.

It is true, as Klein warns, that if ObamaCare fails, Democrats will be back not with a smaller, more manageable idea comparable to Ryan’s suggestions, but with a massive single payer system that will really be the next step toward socialized medicine. But rather than causing conservatives to swallow the so-called compromise of ObamaCare, it is rightly motivating them to draw a line in the sand across which liberal statists ought not to be allowed to cross.

The truth is, ObamaCare’s flaws are baked into the system it is trying to impose on the country and not just a matter of website “glitches.” It is likely to continue to careen from one disaster to another over the course of its life whether the GOP is chortling about it or not. This is a tragedy for the country. But the sooner we find this out the better. A flawed idea from the start, all its critics are doing to ObamaCare at this point is holding up a mirror to the administration’s failure and warning the country not to repeat their mistakes. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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Obama Sticks With Incompetence

Yesterday on CNN embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she had not informed President Obama about the problems affecting the Healthcare.gov website prior to it going live on October 1. That the person in charge of implementing the president’s signature health-care legislation was not only incapable of protecting the administration from a major embarrassment but actually kept him out of the loop about an impending debacle ought to be enough to get her (or anyone in similar circumstances) fired. But as Politico reports today, the consensus in Washington is that Sebelius is still untouchable because of the political difficulties involved in replacing her.

That Sebelius’s job is not in jeopardy because of politics tells us a lot about what’s wrong with this administration. Though the president and his followers seem to spend most of their time excoriating their Republican opponents as mindless partisans, once again this seems to be a case of projection. The fact that Republicans and conservative pundits are calling for Sebelius’s head seems to be enough reason to keep her in office despite her painfully obvious incompetence demonstrated during the ObamaCare rollout. The president has said that Republicans would stop calling it ObamaCare once they saw that it worked. But now that it isn’t working and with no assurances that it will be functioning properly anytime soon, he may be thinking that Reason’s Nick Gillespie was onto something when he suggested the other day that the White House may now be thinking that it should be renamed “SebeliusCare.”

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Yesterday on CNN embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she had not informed President Obama about the problems affecting the Healthcare.gov website prior to it going live on October 1. That the person in charge of implementing the president’s signature health-care legislation was not only incapable of protecting the administration from a major embarrassment but actually kept him out of the loop about an impending debacle ought to be enough to get her (or anyone in similar circumstances) fired. But as Politico reports today, the consensus in Washington is that Sebelius is still untouchable because of the political difficulties involved in replacing her.

That Sebelius’s job is not in jeopardy because of politics tells us a lot about what’s wrong with this administration. Though the president and his followers seem to spend most of their time excoriating their Republican opponents as mindless partisans, once again this seems to be a case of projection. The fact that Republicans and conservative pundits are calling for Sebelius’s head seems to be enough reason to keep her in office despite her painfully obvious incompetence demonstrated during the ObamaCare rollout. The president has said that Republicans would stop calling it ObamaCare once they saw that it worked. But now that it isn’t working and with no assurances that it will be functioning properly anytime soon, he may be thinking that Reason’s Nick Gillespie was onto something when he suggested the other day that the White House may now be thinking that it should be renamed “SebeliusCare.”

The feeling in the White House seems to be that attacks on Sebelius are just the latest Republican tactic in their ongoing campaign to stop ObamaCare. There’s some truth to that. But by framing the issue in this manner, they are looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. Of course, conservatives are going to be quick to find fault with anything to do with legislation that they bitterly opposed. But the president, who focused more on trying to sell the country on a bill that is already the law of the land and can’t be repealed while he is in office than on analyzing the website’s problems during his speech earlier this week, needs to forget about what Republicans are saying and understand that the bad performance of his own appointees is what is killing the program.

It is true that replacing Sebelius would set off a confirmation fight that would make it difficult to get virtually anyone approved to run HHS. That would provide the GOP with a chance to essentially re-litigate their complaints about legislation they believe is an unwarranted expansion of government power that hurts as many if not more people as it helps. But if he watched the CNN interview, the president has to be thinking that if he’s stuck with Sebelius for the duration of this mess, he’s in bigger trouble than even some of his critics think.

The assumption on the left is that the website problem is, as the White House continues to insist, mere “glitches.” But if, as more and more are starting to suspect, the real trouble is systemic rather than one involving technological quirks, what is needed at HHS is someone who understands such issues or at least someone capable of hiring people who do. What is so damning about Sebelius’ behavior is not so much that she doesn’t understand website design but that when confronted with a system that was clearly not ready for prime time, she didn’t have the presence of mind to consult with the president and alert him to the probability that sticking to the October 1 launch date was an invitation to disaster.

The reaction to criticism of Sebelius illustrates that the president is far more interested in preventing further discussions of the merits of the legislation than in actually seeing that it is properly administered. Though Democrats claim no one could be confirmed to replace her, were the president to seek out a non-political figure from the business world with experience with these sorts of problems, such a person would likely be confirmed without too much trouble.

The president may think that his appointment of acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeff Zients to oversee the website problems essentially gets Sebelius off the hook. Perhaps Sebelius also thinks so. But the idea that the person and department charged with overseeing ObamaCare is not also responsible for its full implementation is laughable. This confusion also further confirms GOP arguments that the whole thing is just too complicated for the D.C. bureaucracy to handle.

This is just the rollout of the first part of a complicated and costly piece of legislation that will have a potentially devastating impact on the economy. If Sebelius can’t handle this, what makes anyone think she’ll do any better with the rest of it? And if Obama is so obsessed with not listening to his critics that he is willing to stick with a proven incompetent, what does that say about his management skills?

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Dump Sebelius to Save ObamaCare?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has finally offered to testify before Congress next week. If she does, the grilling by the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the ObamaCare rollout will not be pretty. It’s far from clear that Sebelius will be able to supply satisfactory answers to questions about why this major expansion of government power was unveiled with an inadequate website and a system designed to crash. As Politico notes, we don’t even know if Sebelius, let alone President Obama, knows what’s wrong with it, how or when it can be fixed, how much it will cost, or why there was no backup plan prepared. As I noted last week, there are good political reasons for thinking the president is not inclined to fire Sebelius. But whether he likes it or not, she looks to be the only figure in the administration who can be called to account for the failure. And as more information starts to dribble out to answer these questions, a dynamic in which she is set up to be the sacrifice to the Washington volcano may be inevitable.

The president’s combative stance in his White House speech yesterday on the subject shows that although he professes to be angry about the situation, he’s still more inclined to vent his spleen at opponents of his signature health-care plan than at those screwing up its implementation. His position remains that the problems are mere “glitches” rather than systemic or connected to the inherent challenge of placing a portion of American health care in the hands of federal bureaucrats. This is a president who has always been reluctant to fire subordinates, no matter how incompetent they may be. Nor has he ever shown much interest in holding himself accountable for their mistakes. Thus the decision to focus on selling the wonders of ObamaCare rather than to investigate its flaws is very much in character. But once the scene shifts from the Rose Garden to a congressional hearing room, the president may find that he will rapidly lose control of this story. That will mean the White House will go back into the same scandal damage control mode that was employed with varying success when applied to the administration’s Benghazi, IRS, and spying scandals earlier this year. Unless his tech surge achieves a miraculous recovery of the faltering system, that may mean the end of Sebelius or a delay in the bill’s individual mandate, or both.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has finally offered to testify before Congress next week. If she does, the grilling by the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the ObamaCare rollout will not be pretty. It’s far from clear that Sebelius will be able to supply satisfactory answers to questions about why this major expansion of government power was unveiled with an inadequate website and a system designed to crash. As Politico notes, we don’t even know if Sebelius, let alone President Obama, knows what’s wrong with it, how or when it can be fixed, how much it will cost, or why there was no backup plan prepared. As I noted last week, there are good political reasons for thinking the president is not inclined to fire Sebelius. But whether he likes it or not, she looks to be the only figure in the administration who can be called to account for the failure. And as more information starts to dribble out to answer these questions, a dynamic in which she is set up to be the sacrifice to the Washington volcano may be inevitable.

The president’s combative stance in his White House speech yesterday on the subject shows that although he professes to be angry about the situation, he’s still more inclined to vent his spleen at opponents of his signature health-care plan than at those screwing up its implementation. His position remains that the problems are mere “glitches” rather than systemic or connected to the inherent challenge of placing a portion of American health care in the hands of federal bureaucrats. This is a president who has always been reluctant to fire subordinates, no matter how incompetent they may be. Nor has he ever shown much interest in holding himself accountable for their mistakes. Thus the decision to focus on selling the wonders of ObamaCare rather than to investigate its flaws is very much in character. But once the scene shifts from the Rose Garden to a congressional hearing room, the president may find that he will rapidly lose control of this story. That will mean the White House will go back into the same scandal damage control mode that was employed with varying success when applied to the administration’s Benghazi, IRS, and spying scandals earlier this year. Unless his tech surge achieves a miraculous recovery of the faltering system, that may mean the end of Sebelius or a delay in the bill’s individual mandate, or both.

The president insists that ObamaCare is working and it is just the “long checkout line” via the website that is problematic. But once Sebelius is put on the hot seat, that narrative may no longer be viable. Incompetence isn’t illegal, but it is a damning indictment of an administration whose main purpose is to expand the reach of the federal government. As with the raft of scandals that plagued the president earlier in the year (and from which the mainstream media eager to please the White House has happily moved on), if the best defense that can be put forward for misbehavior or failure is incompetence, that undermines the basic rationale of the Democrats’ efforts to entrust a big chunk of the national economy to government.

While the president was short on answers to the questions the country is asking about the problem, Sebelius won’t be able to get away with the same arrogant stance once she’s hauled in front of the various congressional committees that will want a share of the publicity. Democrats are talking as if all it will take is a few geeks pressing some buttons and the problems will be fixed. But it’s likely that the solution will be a lot more complicated and lot more time-consuming than they hope. As the weeks drag on without tangible improvements, the president may come to the conclusion that the only way to buy some more time for the program that is so close to his heart is to throw Sebelius under the bus. Though Republicans would be certain to turn the process of confirming a replacement into a nightmare, it might turn out to be a better option than stonewalling the issue. This president may believe the only acceptable scapegoats are Republicans, but Sebelius’s resignation may be on his desk long before he waves the white flag on implementing the individual mandate.

But Sebelius’s danger doesn’t scare the president nearly as much as the prospect that computer technology—his ace in the hole in two presidential campaigns—will be the undoing of his most cherished accomplishment. Make no mistake, if the tech surge doesn’t provide almost immediate relief as the January deadline looms closer, the president knows he will also have no choice but to push back the enforcement of the individual mandate. How ironic would it be if a bad computer system were to force the president to do what he vowed never to concede to Republicans? We’re still a long way from that point. But if it does happen, don’t bet on Sebelius still being around in office to see it.

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Barack Obama, Our Dogmatic Amateur

Like the Mississippi, the Affordable Care Act just keeps rolling along. And as it does, the problems continue to pile up, one on top of the other.

The most recent one, of course, is the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges. It’s not simply that it’s failed; it’s that the failure has been so complete, so total, and it has occurred despite the Obama administration having had so much time to prepare for this moment.

It isn’t helpful to the president, of course, that even the elite media is covering the story with some candor, skeptically rather than worshipfully. Take CBS News. Reporter Jan Crawford’s report is worth watching. It does a nice job showing why the rollout has been “nothing short of disastrous.”

This report comes after Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart asked some fairly pointed questions of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the “level of incompetence that’s larger than what it should be.” When a liberal Democratic president begins to lose CBS News and Jon Stewart, you know things aren’t going well. Read More

Like the Mississippi, the Affordable Care Act just keeps rolling along. And as it does, the problems continue to pile up, one on top of the other.

The most recent one, of course, is the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges. It’s not simply that it’s failed; it’s that the failure has been so complete, so total, and it has occurred despite the Obama administration having had so much time to prepare for this moment.

It isn’t helpful to the president, of course, that even the elite media is covering the story with some candor, skeptically rather than worshipfully. Take CBS News. Reporter Jan Crawford’s report is worth watching. It does a nice job showing why the rollout has been “nothing short of disastrous.”

This report comes after Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart asked some fairly pointed questions of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the “level of incompetence that’s larger than what it should be.” When a liberal Democratic president begins to lose CBS News and Jon Stewart, you know things aren’t going well.

But the loss in confidence is understandable. After all, the president’s health-care plan has amassed a remarkably dismal record, from the ineptness of the rollout of the exchanges and data systems that are not secure and leave citizens vulnerable to fraud and identity theft to higher premiums, exploding costs, people being forced to leave their preferred coverage, a plan whose “universal coverage” leaves more than 30 million people uninsured, postponing the employer mandate and more. No wonder the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, earlier this year stated that the implementation of the bill was shaping up to be a “huge train wreck.” It appears Senator Baucus was understating things a bit.

Here’s what’s important to realize. We can now judge the president’s promises against his results, what he said he would do versus what he has actually done. The president is being assessed not by his rhetoric but by his performance. And his performance is, in almost every respect, simply dreadful. He combines two problematic qualities: dogmatism and ineptitude.

As for the Affordable Care Act: It is, in conception and execution, emblematic of modern liberalism. This is what progressives wanted. It was what they fought for. And now they own it. It’s beginning to dawn on a few of them that it may well haunt them for years to come.

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Organ Allocation Should Be Done By Doctors, Not Judges

If you’re an avid viewer of cable news, you’ve likely heard the story of Sarah Murnaghan several times over the past few weeks. Murnaghan is a 10-year-old girl from Pennsylvania who was, until today, dying while waiting for a lung transplant due to cystic fibrosis. The girl’s family has been able to do what few other families with dying loved ones are able to: generate enough publicity to potentially save the life of their daughter. Yesterday Murnaghan underwent surgery to receive a lung transplant that she has been waiting for for the past year and a half.

The outcome is heartwarming: Who doesn’t want to see a young girl get a new lease on life? The story, however, raises some serious questions about ethics and best practices in a field that is already fraught with tension over life-and-death decisions. 

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If you’re an avid viewer of cable news, you’ve likely heard the story of Sarah Murnaghan several times over the past few weeks. Murnaghan is a 10-year-old girl from Pennsylvania who was, until today, dying while waiting for a lung transplant due to cystic fibrosis. The girl’s family has been able to do what few other families with dying loved ones are able to: generate enough publicity to potentially save the life of their daughter. Yesterday Murnaghan underwent surgery to receive a lung transplant that she has been waiting for for the past year and a half.

The outcome is heartwarming: Who doesn’t want to see a young girl get a new lease on life? The story, however, raises some serious questions about ethics and best practices in a field that is already fraught with tension over life-and-death decisions. 

Organ transplant list rules are complicated, and vary by the type of organ. Generally, every organ transplant system in the country operates as independently as possible, with a panel of doctors assigning each patient a score based on a number of factors, which then determines their ranking on the list. Because the list of those in need of transplants is far longer than the list of potential organs, impartial panels of doctors blindly determine a patient’s position on the list, which can change depending on if their condition changes. Because of the biological differences between pediatric and adult patients, there are different criteria for each group for lung donation nationwide.

There are fewer pediatric organs available. However, every pediatric lung is first offered to a pediatric patient before it is offered to an adult. Adult patients are given a “lung allocation score,” which was developed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), whose board decided the criteria used to determine a patient’s position on the lung transplant list. There have been far fewer pediatric lung transplants than adults, therefore the UNOS has assigned different criteria for patients under the age of 12 waiting for a lung transplant as they await further data to accurately determine how to assign a more precise score to children. Computers randomly sort patients, and while pediatric patients’ rank may be disadvantaged on the list according to their score, which is less precise than that of adults, the UNOS favors pediatric patients in other ways in addition to offering pediatric patients first priority for pediatric lungs, such as assigning a priority blind to a patient’s prognosis, a criteria which is factored into the scores of adult patients. Pediatric patients under the age of 12 also have a much wider geographic area from which they can be offered lungs, as compared to adolescent and adult patients, another advantage which is only offered to pediatric patients who may otherwise be disadvantaged. 

Murnaghan was one of several children waiting for a lung at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia alone (there are over 75,000 active individuals waiting for an organ nationwide). As her condition deteriorated, the family contacted Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and asked for the rules regarding pediatric organ transplants to be waived for their daughter, which Sebelius declined to do. This week the family was able to force Sebelius to allow their daughter to be considered an adult by approaching a federal judge who ruled that the criteria used separating pediatric and adult patients “discriminates against children and serves no purpose, is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.” Because of this federal judge’s ruling, the UNOS was forced to create a false record for Murnaghan, a second computer file which listed her as an adult, thereby artificially raising her “lung allocation score” ensuring a higher placement on the transplant list, which ended up securing her a set of lungs today.

While patients, both pediatric and adult, can petition a blind panel of doctors for an exception to their “lung allocation score,” asking for it to be raised based on extenuating circumstances, this workaround that was forced by the federal ruling on the UNOS is highly irregular and would never normally have been implemented, according to a press liaison I spoke with there yesterday. There are avenues built into the system meant to provide recourse for families who would like to see their loved one placed higher on the list. However, blatantly manipulating the computer system in this manner has never before been offered to a patient. Now that it has, the UNOS has been forced to quickly and without due consideration change the way scores are assigned to pediatric patients so that Murnaghan is not unfairly advantaged. While there isn’t necessarily enough data to accomplish this fairly or accurately, the system has now been totally altered not by a panel of experts, but instead by a federal judge. The UNOS is now forced to quickly implement new criteria for ranking pediatric patients in the coming weeks, despite a lack of necessary data and time to do so effectively.

Many opponents of the Obama administration have called Sebelius a “one-woman death panel,” cheering the federal judge’s ruling that forced Murnaghan be considered an adult. Sebelius expressed her apprehension interfering with the organ donation process, and according to Fox News

Sebelius said that such decisions should be made by medical experts and noted that there were three other children at Children’s Hospital alone in the same condition.

This is a sentiment that isn’t often uttered on this blog, but in this instance, Sebelius was correct in deciding not to intervene in this case, and in any other case regarding organ donation.

There are few things in this world more tragic than a young person’s death. One cannot help but feel the utmost sympathy for families like the Murnaghans as they watch, helplessly, as their child suffers. There, are, however, rules in place regarding organ donation and transplantation which were made in order to make the process as successful and fair as humanly possible, especially given the heart-wrenching decisions that organ donation panels are faced with every day. These rules were decided on by panels of unbiased experts who tried, to the best of their limited ability, to make organs available fairly to those who need and would benefit from them most.

Should Murnaghan, a pediatric patient with an illness that, even after transplant, can still significantly lower life expectancy, be artificially raised on the list, thereby bumping another patient a slot lower? Who is the patient that would have received the organ yesterday? A mother or father of young children? Perhaps a college student or a retiree supporting their grandchildren? It’s impossible to know, as a feature of the organ transplant lists is their anonymity: patients are assigned numbers in order to decrease the likelihood that one life would be prioritized over another. While the Murnaghan case is tragic, it’s best to keep in mind that wariness of judicial activism is strong in the conservative movement for a reason. By circumventing the rules that thousands of other families abide by, this federal judge has introduced the very real possibility that the carefully crafted rules regarding organ allocation in this country will now be decided not by trained medical professionals operating under a strict series of guidelines, but instead by judges who have no involvement in the complicated medical and ethical field of organ donation. If federal courts are soon deluged by desperate families seeking exceptions to organ transplant rules, this ruling will, and should be, viewed as what it is: a well-intentioned but misguided opening of Pandora’s Box.

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The Scandals and ObamaCare

The New York Times is worried about the IRS scandal–but not for the reasons that have alarmed most Americans. Since the paper actually encouraged the government to target conservative organizations for prejudicial treatment last year, its response to the outrageous conduct that even the White House condemned has been somewhat equivocal, rather than expressing the fears that others feel about the tax agency involving itself in partisan politics. What they’re really scared about, though, is the possibility that anger about the IRS and big government in general that this and other administration scandals have engendered will make it more difficult to implement ObamaCare. Though the Times’s editorial page is usually wrong about most issues, they’re right on target on this score.

That’s exactly why congressional Republicans shouldn’t back away from the idea of attempting to separate the IRS from the role the bill has them playing in rolling out this vast expansion of government power. Similarly, they should also investigate the efforts of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to shake down corporations in order to get them to contribute to a campaign to pressure people to enroll in the act’s health exchanges.

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The New York Times is worried about the IRS scandal–but not for the reasons that have alarmed most Americans. Since the paper actually encouraged the government to target conservative organizations for prejudicial treatment last year, its response to the outrageous conduct that even the White House condemned has been somewhat equivocal, rather than expressing the fears that others feel about the tax agency involving itself in partisan politics. What they’re really scared about, though, is the possibility that anger about the IRS and big government in general that this and other administration scandals have engendered will make it more difficult to implement ObamaCare. Though the Times’s editorial page is usually wrong about most issues, they’re right on target on this score.

That’s exactly why congressional Republicans shouldn’t back away from the idea of attempting to separate the IRS from the role the bill has them playing in rolling out this vast expansion of government power. Similarly, they should also investigate the efforts of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to shake down corporations in order to get them to contribute to a campaign to pressure people to enroll in the act’s health exchanges.

The IRS is tasked by the poorly named Affordable Care Act to scour the tax returns of citizens and businesses to determine which Americans will be fined for failing to buy insurance. Given the fact that the same person who presided over the IRS department that engaged in political targeting is now tasked with running the ObamaCare inquisition, Republicans would do well to not just ask about that appointment but to separate the tax agency from the health care boondoggle. Indeed, after provoking the justified derision of the country for their three-dozen futile attempts to repeal ObamaCare, the GOP should seize on this issue as a way to engage more than just conservative partisans in the need to rethink the bill.

A government that can’t be trusted to handle the processing of tax exemption applications without using political criteria that just happens to conform with the president’s prejudices and which spies on journalists with impunity simply isn’t capable of pulling off what is already a health care fiasco in a fair manner.

In that context, Sebelius’s outrageous stunt in which companies are being strong-armed to pay for ObamaCare propaganda is another reason why Congress must step in. The Enroll America campaign is merely a new branch of the same old Obama campaign fundraising machine. The spectacle of current and former government officials shaking down private businesses to pay for ads portraying the president’s signature legislation as a panacea is more than unseemly. It is a scandal in its own right that crosses a line that shouldn’t even be approached. Yet the Times thinks it’s all worth it because shoving ObamaCare down the nation’s throat is worth any moral or ethical compromise.

This shows again that, contrary to the pleas of the Times and other liberal organs, the spate of scandals isn’t a distraction from implementing the president’s second-term agenda. They are a reminder that the connection between these ethical shortcomings and the president’s big government to-do list is a good reason to slow down the rush toward health care Armageddon. 

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Catholics Angered by Choice of Commencement Speaker

To be precise, it’s Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute that will reportedly host Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – the official behind the birth control mandate – as its commencement speaker.

As you might imagine, the Catholic Cardinal Newman Society is furious:

It is scandalous and outrageous that America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university has elected to provide this prestigious platform to a publicly “pro-choice” Catholic who is most responsible for the Obama administration’s effort to restrict the Constitution’s first freedom — the right to free exercise of religion — while threatening the survival of many Catholic and other religious colleges and universities, schools, charities, hospitals and other apostolates.

Georgetown insults all Americans by this honor. The selection is especially insulting to faithful Catholics and their bishops, who are engaged in the fight for religious liberty and against abortion. The contrast is stark between Georgetown University and those faithful Catholic colleges and universities that have stood for faith and freedom.

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To be precise, it’s Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute that will reportedly host Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – the official behind the birth control mandate – as its commencement speaker.

As you might imagine, the Catholic Cardinal Newman Society is furious:

It is scandalous and outrageous that America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university has elected to provide this prestigious platform to a publicly “pro-choice” Catholic who is most responsible for the Obama administration’s effort to restrict the Constitution’s first freedom — the right to free exercise of religion — while threatening the survival of many Catholic and other religious colleges and universities, schools, charities, hospitals and other apostolates.

Georgetown insults all Americans by this honor. The selection is especially insulting to faithful Catholics and their bishops, who are engaged in the fight for religious liberty and against abortion. The contrast is stark between Georgetown University and those faithful Catholic colleges and universities that have stood for faith and freedom.

At the American Spectator, Quin Hillyer rightly wonders why Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech at Georgetown was criticized by 90 faculty members as anti-Catholic, but they have yet to object to the Sebelius invitation:

If 90 faculty members can protest a non-honorary speech by somebody who only arguably would violate interpretive church teaching, why aren’t they not just protesting but actually threatening to publicly demonstrate against honoring a speaker who is directly trampling upon central, doctrinal church theology and mission?

If there was any doubt that Georgetown’s PPI is intentionally trying to send a message by choosing Sebelius, consider the institute’s last controversial speaker. Georgetown law student and activist Sandra Fluke gave a lecture at the institute yesterday. This seems intended as some sort of protest of Georgetown’s birth control insurance policy, which the university has refused to change, despite complaints from activists.

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RE: Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

Less than 24 hours after the story of the Arizona shooting first broke, Americans woke up to Responsible-Rhetoric Sunday. Every newspaper and news-analysis show piously raised questions about the country’s overheated political rhetoric and its relationship to yesterday’s massacre. This was nothing short of the immediate and seamless political hijacking of a senseless tragedy.

That the alleged shooter has left a long and florid  multimedia trail detailing what looks like a chaotic battle with paranoid psychosis has led, of course, to this obvious  conclusion: Sarah Palin is, at least partially, to blame: “During the fall campaign, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, posted a controversial map on her Facebook page depicting spots where Democrats were running for re-election,” write Marc Lacey and David Herszenhorn in the New York Times. “Those Democrats were noted by crosshairs symbols like those seen through the scope of a gun. Ms. Giffords was among those on Ms. Palin’s map.”

And what about 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green? Was the little girl killed in yesterday’s shooting also “among those on Ms. Palin’s map”? Were the other 16 victims? The scrambled mind behind yesterday’s unspeakable rampage is obviously not organized enough to act on any real-world motivations, let alone political ones. But never mind, the media will take it from there.

A responsible pundit class would have explored the issues most relevant to the shooting: severe mental illness and its warning signs; social networks and the responsibilities of participants; the challenges posed to the security of American officials. Instead, we got the latest installment in what has become a liberal-media pastime: shaping apolitical tragedies into left-wing talking points. Violent crimes are ripe for this treatment. Michael Moore squeezed an entire anti-Balkan intervention movie out of the Columbine shooting. Natural disasters work too: a tornado devastates Greensburg, Kansas? Then-governor Kathleen Sebelius blamed Iraq policy, naturally. A hurricane overwhelms New Orleans? Well, that’s Bush for you. Everything from the Duke-lacrosse case to the BP spill to the earthquake in Haiti can be trumped out as evidence of conservatism’s evils. By the time history puts these things in perspective, we’ve all become a little dumber and more than a little dirtier.

Today, with a nation awash in personal tragedy and people in hospital beds fighting for their lives, the political spin of yesterday’s horror marks a new low. Indeed it is no small indignity for conservatives to have to join this unseemly debate in order to refute liberal analysis. The preposterous George Packer writes, “for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale.” And so it feels frankly indecent to point out that it was President Obama who called Republicans “enemies” in the run-up to the November elections.  If the shapeless massacre in Arizona devolves into nothing but another round of sound-bite ping-pong, then all the hopes of 2011 being a fresh start with a new Congress are for naught. For even as our elected leaders now act with a somewhat restored sense of dignity and unity, talking heads have waged a civil war.

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Holder and Sebelius, Looking Very Weak

Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius’s Washington Post op-ed responding to yesterday’s federal court ruling on ObamaCare is arresting. Neither its style nor its force is remarkable. Rather, it is arresting in its refusal to call the decision wrong in accordance with the law. Here’s how Holder and Sebelius address yesterday’s judgment: “Opponents claim the individual responsibility provision is unlawful because it ‘regulates inactivity.’ But none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care. All of us need health care eventually.”

This is actually false. Most adults choose to seek health care eventually.  Some of us — and we all know such people — resist health care in every single circumstance. Others — a very lucky minority — are not opposed to seeking health care as a matter of personal policy but never find themselves sick enough to enlist a medical professional. All this is to say Holder and Sebelius brush rather breezily over the sticky question of what constitutes a “need,” and it is a contention about universal need on which they claim the constitutional soundness of ObamaCare. Weak stuff.

Never do they assert that it is lawful to regulate inactivity. Nor do they demonstrate that not purchasing insurance is not inactivity. They treat the issue as some sort of communally understood given, and blur the legal question out of existence. The rest of the op-ed is devoted to the economics of insurance and the mentioning of people who are ill. Both of those are of supreme importance to health-care policy as a whole. But neither has much to do with yesterday’s ruling. So the judge was wrong simply because “none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care” and because people are sick in America. That’s not legal, and if it’s the best they can do, they’re in trouble.

Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius’s Washington Post op-ed responding to yesterday’s federal court ruling on ObamaCare is arresting. Neither its style nor its force is remarkable. Rather, it is arresting in its refusal to call the decision wrong in accordance with the law. Here’s how Holder and Sebelius address yesterday’s judgment: “Opponents claim the individual responsibility provision is unlawful because it ‘regulates inactivity.’ But none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care. All of us need health care eventually.”

This is actually false. Most adults choose to seek health care eventually.  Some of us — and we all know such people — resist health care in every single circumstance. Others — a very lucky minority — are not opposed to seeking health care as a matter of personal policy but never find themselves sick enough to enlist a medical professional. All this is to say Holder and Sebelius brush rather breezily over the sticky question of what constitutes a “need,” and it is a contention about universal need on which they claim the constitutional soundness of ObamaCare. Weak stuff.

Never do they assert that it is lawful to regulate inactivity. Nor do they demonstrate that not purchasing insurance is not inactivity. They treat the issue as some sort of communally understood given, and blur the legal question out of existence. The rest of the op-ed is devoted to the economics of insurance and the mentioning of people who are ill. Both of those are of supreme importance to health-care policy as a whole. But neither has much to do with yesterday’s ruling. So the judge was wrong simply because “none of us is a bystander when it comes to health care” and because people are sick in America. That’s not legal, and if it’s the best they can do, they’re in trouble.

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Lots and Lots of People Will Lose Their Current Coverage

Obama promised that if you liked your health-care coverage, you could keep it under ObamaCare. But not really. Not remotely close, actually:

McDonald’s Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers’ health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

It’s not simply the mini-med plans (which don’t meet the ObamaCare regulation “to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care” because of high turnover and administrative costs). ObamaCare is already wreaking havoc throughout the health-care system:

McDonald’s move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame. HHS has criticized the proposed increases as unwarranted.

We also learned this week:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

The administration kept promising that the public would like what they found in ObamaCare. However, the more they see, the more they are likely to conclude they were scammed.

UPDATE: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Wall Street Journal’s story is false.  But her denial is suspect: “Sebelius suggested that McDonald’s may in fact get a waiver from HHS that would enable the fast-food giant to continue offering limited benefits plans to its employees. But neither Sebelius nor McDonald’s officials have ruled out the possibility that the company would drop such insurance coverage, which is what the Journal claimed.”

Obama promised that if you liked your health-care coverage, you could keep it under ObamaCare. But not really. Not remotely close, actually:

McDonald’s Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers’ health plans as the law ripples through the real world.

Trade groups representing restaurants and retailers say low-wage employers might halt their coverage if the government doesn’t loosen a requirement for “mini-med” plans, which offer limited benefits to some 1.4 million Americans.

It’s not simply the mini-med plans (which don’t meet the ObamaCare regulation “to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care” because of high turnover and administrative costs). ObamaCare is already wreaking havoc throughout the health-care system:

McDonald’s move is the latest indication of possible unintended consequences from the health overhaul. Dozens of companies have taken charges against earnings—totaling more than $1 billion—over a tax change in prescription-drug benefits for retirees.

More recently, insurers have proposed a round of double-digit premium increases and said new coverage mandates in the law are partly to blame. HHS has criticized the proposed increases as unwarranted.

We also learned this week:

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care has notified customers that it will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.

The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

The administration kept promising that the public would like what they found in ObamaCare. However, the more they see, the more they are likely to conclude they were scammed.

UPDATE: HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Wall Street Journal’s story is false.  But her denial is suspect: “Sebelius suggested that McDonald’s may in fact get a waiver from HHS that would enable the fast-food giant to continue offering limited benefits plans to its employees. But neither Sebelius nor McDonald’s officials have ruled out the possibility that the company would drop such insurance coverage, which is what the Journal claimed.”

Read Less




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