Dr. Boozman's Check-up

“If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan” is a phrase President Obama often repeated while campaigning for his signature health care law.

It was meant to alleviate the concerns that millions of Americans had about being forced off their insurance and/or losing their doctors. Turns out those concerns were valid.

This oft-repeated, “promise” was a “whopper” of a lie, according to the Fact Checker blog at The Washington Post.  

The Post writes:

The president’s statements were sweeping and unequivocal — and made both before and after the bill became law. The White House now cites technicalities to avoid admitting that he went too far in his repeated pledge, which, after all, is one of the most famous statements of his presidency.

The president’s promise apparently came with a very large caveat: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan — if we deem it to be adequate.” 

What President Obama really meant was if he likes your health care plan you can keep it. If not, you’re out of luck.

One month in and at least 3.5 million Americans have received insurance cancellation notices. That number is only expected to continue to climb in the final weeks of 2013 and beyond.

The President’s response to the mess he created is telling the millions of Americans who have received cancellation notices they can “just shop around” for new policies that often come with more expensive premiums and higher deductibles.

There’s a better way forward, Mr. President. Short of repealing and replacing this disaster of a program, we need to add flexibility to the standards for policies under Obamacare and give Americans the freedom to keep their plans if they so choose. We can easily accomplish that by passing a bill introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), which has the support of a majority of Senate Republicans, including myself, and will give Americans who like their individual policies the ability to keep them.

Decreased coverage, increased premiums and expanded government is not what the American people want, need or deserve. This is not what they want in a healthcare system. The real solution is repealing this law and replacing it with healthcare reform that will work. Until we can achieve that goal, we must offer some relief to the millions of Americans who are now receiving cancellation notices thanks to Obamacare.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette (subscription required) reported today that fewer than 200 people have signed up for health care coverage through the exchanges. Insurance company executives blamed problems with Healthcare.gov, the federal website we have to use to sign residents up for the exchanges.

The Administration wants to brush these troubles off as a small bump in the road to implementation. In reality, what the Administration calls “glitches” may have a detrimental impact on the pocketbook of everyday Americans.  

The clock is ticking. Every American who is not enrolled in Administration-approved medical insurance by the end of March will be taxed. Yet, the Administration’s failures make compliance impossible for millions of Americans. Instead of acknowledging this error, the President and his team plan to subject Americans to this unjust tax if they do not comply by March 31, 2014, despite the fact that the administration has failed to make the website work.

This is all the more reason why every American should be granted a reprieve from Obamacare. This week, I joined Senator Marco Rubio and seven of our colleagues to introduce the Delay Until Fully Functional Act. This bill would delay the individual mandate until six months after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) certifies that the exchange website is fully functional.

Certainly the rollout of the Obamacare website has been nothing short of a disaster. However, Healthcare.gov is a microcosm of the serious problems created by putting a government bureaucracy in charge of our health care. Setting up and thoroughly testing a fully-operational website prior to launching it should be the easy part. The fact that the Administration can’t deliver on the easiest of its healthcare promises doesn’t bode well for Americans forced into this bureaucratic monstrosity. It is safe to say that there will be more problems if we continue to move forward, even for those “lucky” few who can sign-up before the deadline.

Until we can achieve the real solution of repealing this law and replacing it with market-based reforms, delaying the individual mandate is the only fair course of action.

Despite the rainy weather, we still had a good turnout for our bipartisan, bicameral press conference on veterans funding this morning.

Senate and House Veterans Affairs’ Committee chairmen were on hand to speak as were representatives from many of the leading Veterans Service Organizations including the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Military Officers Association of America.

My remarks at the event focused on a bill I am sponsoring with Senator Mark Begich of Alaska (who also participated in this morning’s event) to allow Congress to pass advanced funding for key veterans’ programs.

In this era of budget uncertainty and funding lapses, protecting essential veterans’ services from being used as political footballs is the right thing to do. Expanding one-year advanced funding for these VA programs, like we currently do for VA health care, can ensure that all the services which our veterans have earned, and depend on, will continue should there be future funding lapses. As we saw from the shutdown, many veterans’ benefits – including disability compensation, pension and GI Bill benefits – also need the protection that advance funding provides them. 

At the same time, protecting veterans during budget fights isn’t the only reason to do this. To me, this seems like common sense budgeting that would enable the VA to have greater certainty and better planning for programs it’s implementing for our men and women who have served. So let’s work together to pass this bill and get our veterans the certainty they deserve.

President Obama promised that Americans who liked their healthcare plan would not lose existing coverage as a result of his healthcare overhaul. Unfortunately millions of Americans are experiencing the reality that they will not be able to keep their health insurance.

What’s worse is that the Administration expected this to happen. The only thing that seems to being going according to plan with this rollout is the cancellation of millions of people from their current health plans.

Early last year the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report showing that 4 million fewer Americans will receive employer-based healthcare coverage under Obamacare.

Decreased coverage, increased premiums and expanded government is not what the American people want, need or deserve. This is not what they want in a healthcare system. The real solution is repealing this law and replacing it with healthcare reform that will work. I continue to work toward that goal.

The rollout of Obamacare has been nothing short of a disaster. Before the law’s implementation, state officials assured us that there would be up to eight carriers offering insurance on the individual market. The President even compared shopping on the exchanges to buying airline tickets online from a website like Expedia or Travelocity.

Sounds easy right?

If you try logging on to the Arkansas Health Connector Website, you will find at most, four plans offering coverage. Over 75% of the state will have three or fewer provider options.

How does this shopping experience remotely resemble anything close to Expedia or Travelocity when you have only one, maybe two carriers to shop from?  This is sadly the case in large parts of Arkansas—just one airline with overpriced tickets for coach to pick from.

The troubles with Obamacare run far deeper than “technical glitches.” The Administration’s lackluster response to the online enrollment problems shines a light on this program’s gross mismanagement.

So far, the Administration is failing to meet constitutional requirements of fairness and equality before the law. This is why Congressmen Rick Crawford (AR-01), Tim Griffin (AR-02), Steve Womack (AR-03), Tom Cotton (AR-04) and I sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius requesting information so that we can evaluate legislative solutions to address these issues.  

We requested that she provide:

  1. All correspondence between HHS and the Arkansas Department of Insurance regarding the impact regulations will have on the number of providers within the Arkansas insurance market.
  2. All correspondence you provided to stakeholders in Arkansas regarding the status of the exchanges leading up to their launch on October 1, 2013.
  3. The number of confirmed enrollments in Arkansas, as of Friday, October 25, 2013.

The full letter is attached below. Secretary Sebelius needs to quickly and thoroughly respond to these questions. I will share the Secretary’s response upon receipt. 

World Polio Day

Oct 24 2013

While the U.S. eradicated polio more than 30 years ago, globally this fight is not over. In August an outbreak of polio in Somalia inflicted 105 people with the deadly disease, more cases than all other countries combined. The UN became alarmed earlier this month at the looming threat of polio throughout regions of Sudan and vaccinations against the disease in Pakistan are coming under attack and threatening global health efforts to eradicate the disease.

We have the vaccine to stop polio in its tracks and a worldwide push is underway to eliminate the disease. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative implemented a five year strategic plan to eradicate polio by 2018. The Shot@Life Campaign, Rotary International, the Gates Foundation, and many others are making a difference on this front. Efforts to fight polio have reduced cases by 99 percent since 1988, but clearly more work needs to be done.

That’s why we’re raising awareness about this disease and recognizing today as World Polio Day. I am happy to join my senate colleagues in supporting a resolution that commends the international community for fighting against this disease by vaccinating kids around the world and offers our continued commitment to eradicate this disease once and for all.

Yesterday, as he struggled to explain away the failures of healthcare.gov—the website that most Americans must visit to enroll in Obamacare—President Obama said, “The Affordable Care Act is not just a website. It’s much more.”

He’s right. It’s not just a website. However, the website should be the easy part. The fact that the Administration can’t deliver on the easiest of its healthcare promises does not bode well for Americans forced into this bureaucratic monstrosity.

According to Consumer Reports, of the nearly 9.5 million people who tried to register in the first week, only 271,000 were able to create an account. That's not even close to the amount of people who were able to actually purchase a plan. That number, while not released by the White House, is anticipated to be significantly lower.

The low number of actual accounts is just part of the problem.

Ron Fournier of National Journal has documented a number of the complaints being directed at the White House from those who have tried to sign-up for Obamacare:

  • Low-income people erroneously told they don't qualify for Medicaid
  • Insurance companies getting confusing information about who has signed-up
  • Inaccurate information provided to people about federal tax credits

The last point is particularly startling, and it’s a preview to what is the next major shock created by Obamacare.

As the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) points out, much of the current tech problems stem directly from the failure of Healthcare.gov to reliably calculate subsidies.

So what happens when Americans inevitably find out they don’t actually qualify for the subsidies they were promised? When a government’s miscalculation means Americans owe more money, who suffers?

Again, this was supposed to be the easy part. What happens when the federal government tries to verify coverage, subsidy qualifications or compliance?

The troubles with Obamacare run far deeper than “technical glitches.” The Administration’s lackluster response to the online enrollment problems shines a light on this program’s gross mismanagement. 

Healthcare.gov is a microcosm of the serious problems created by putting a government bureaucracy in charge of your health care. Bloated. Incompetent. Glitchy. Americans have to tolerate this from government services on a daily basis. It is the very reason that we are trying to prevent President Obama’s unprecedented expansion of the federal government. With a dubious track record of results from federal programs, President Obama now wants to put our health care in the hands of the very people who mismanage the other dysfunctional services the government provides.

The Administration needs to own up to the fact that Obamacare is not ready for primetime and delay the individual mandate. The real solution is repealing this law and replacing it with healthcare reform that will work. I continue to work toward that end.

Debt Ceiling Memo

Oct 14 2013

The debt ceiling is a cap set by Congress on the amount of debt the federal government can legally borrow. According to the Treasury Department, Congress is facing an October 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling or face a default on the bills our country owes. 

Irresponsible spending hurts the future of our country. Over the past four years, the out-of-control spending has increased our deficit spending and forced us to increase the debt ceiling seven times. This means Washington has added $43,000 in debt for every American household. We need to cut spending and balance the budget so we can regain control of our finances. 

Cut Spending 

Hardworking Arkansas families are forced to spend within their means and Washington needs to do same. We need a long-term plan to put our country on the road to fiscal responsibility and that begins by reining in spending. 

61 percent of Americans believe that it’s “right to require spending cuts when the debt ceiling is raised.” 

Balance the Budget 

The government has a responsibility to pay its financial obligations, but continuing to raise the debt limit is not an approach that puts our country on the path to fiscal responsibility. We need a mechanism that prevents us from overspending and forces the government to budget within its means. The only way to get a handle on the out-of-control spending is to reform how we allocate federal dollars. That’s why I’m supportive of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.

Just think how differently our financial outlook would be had Congress passed the Balanced Budget Amendment in 1995. The House approved the amendment but it failed in the Senate by one vote. 

Washington needs to follow in the footsteps of Arkansas where state leaders are required to balance the budget. If Arkansas can do it, Washington can too. 

I am a cosponsor of S.J. Res. 6, a balanced budget resolution introduced by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) as well as S.J. Res. 7, a balanced budget resolution introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). Both of these measures would propose a Constitutional amendment that stipulates that the United States cannot spend more than its total revenue for any given fiscal year. 

While Washington has taken steps to rein in spending we need to continue efforts. In 2011 Congress passed the Budget Control Act to simultaneously address federal spending and the debt ceiling. In an effort to cut Washington spending by a trillion dollars, President Obama proposed and agreed to across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. To avoid these automatic cuts, members of the joint deficit reduction committee, commonly referred to as the supercommittee were tasked with cutting more than $1 trillion in deficit spending. As you may remember, the committee failed to make the necessary cuts which triggered sequestration. 

We have to make difficult spending decisions. That begins with passing a budget and approving the 12 appropriations bills. Following proper procedure allows for proper oversight to help eliminate waste, fraud and abuse with taxpayer dollars. 

Learn more:

Congressional Research Service (CRS): The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases

The electronic employment verification system, commonly referred to as E-Verify, that allows employers to confirm the immigration status of their workforce is not running because of the government shutdown.

This means we are unable to:

  • Enroll any company in E-Verify
  • Verify employment eligibility on new cases
  • View or take action on any pending cases

E-Verify is an internet-based system that employers and companies rely on to ensure new hires have the legal right to work in the U.S. E-Verify has a successful track record of combating the hiring of illegal immigrants and is currently used by more nearly 410,000 employers nationwide. The Department of Homeland Security estimates more than 1,000 new businesses sign up each week. Unfortunately, because of the government shutdown, these employers are unable to determine if new hires are legally able to work in the U.S. 

E-Verify is a great tool to combat illegal immigration. That’s why I’m working to strengthen the program and make it a requirement in every workplace. Earlier this year I cosponsored the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act of 2013 which permanently reauthorizes the E-Verify program and makes its use mandatory for all employers within one year of date of enactment. 

This is a practical approach to holding employers accountable and also helps cut down on identity theft by ensuring that the government catches multiple uses of Social Security numbers.

Illegal immigration isn’t just an issue for border states. It’s an issue that impacts all 50 states. A government shutdown compromises our ability to combat illegal immigration and secure our border and it puts a hold on our economy and the hiring by companies that are nervous to proceed without the ability to check the legal status. We are urging our colleagues to find common ground to end this stalemate and get this program up and running.

Over the weekend, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced that almost all of its 350,000 furloughed civilian employees, including those in the National Guard and Reserve components, would return to work in the coming days.

This includes over 700 members of the Arkansas National Guard that were furloughed last week.

I am pleased that Secretary Hagel has cleared the way for these men and women to return to work, but they should’ve never been furloughed in the first place. Prior to the government shutdown, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Pay Our Military Act to make sure both active duty service members and DOD civilian employees receive pay during the government shutdown.

The language of the Pay Our Military Act was specifically written to avoid the “exempted” and “essential” tags. The law is explicitly clear: all members of the Armed Forces, including Reserve component personnel serving in an active status, will be paid in the event of a government shutdown. Further, the bill requires that civilian Department of Defense personnel “providing support to members of the Armed Forces” continue to receive their pay and allowances.

Late last week, I joined forty-nine of my Senate colleagues to ask Secretary Hagel to make sure that all members of the military are compensated for their service during the shutdown.  We clearly stated that all service members, and the civilians that support them, should receive equitable and fair treatment under this law. We urged him to use the authority granted by Congress to maintain our military readiness without interruption.

I am pleased that the Administration took steps to ensure that the spirit of the “Pay Our Military Act” is upheld. It would be beneficial if the Administration made more common-sense decisions like this to help Americans impacted by the shutdown, rather than looking for ways to exacerbate the pain.