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Friday, March 4, 2011


President Obama made headlines in a speech before the National Governors Association, when he endorsed a Senate bill described as allowing states to seek “waivers” of certain requirements in the Obama Healthcare Law. However, the offer comes with strings, and would do nothing to change the elements of the federal law that will impose rationing of medical treatment if it is not repealed.

There would be no “waiver” from the duty of the Independent Payment Advisory Board to recommend, or the authority of the federal Department of Health and Human Services to impose, so-called “quality” and “efficiency” standards on health care providers designed to limit what Americans will be permitted to spend on life-saving medical care for themselves and their families, forcing it below the rate of medical inflation.

Senate Bill 248, for which the President expressed support, would move from 2017 to 2014 the date when states would be allowed to seek exemptions from certain Obama Health Care Law requirements, such as state insurance exchanges, and the individual and employer mandates. Such a waiver would be granted, however, only if the Administration is convinced that the state’s alternative would 1) make insurance just as "affordable" as under Obamacare (translation: limit what resources people are allowed to devote to their own health care); 2) Cover as many people as Obamacare with health insurance which is as “comprehensive” as Obamacare; and 3) Not increase the federal budget deficit.

Most States are struggling with their health care budgets, and many expect the situation to become worse under the requirements of the Obama health care law. Politico reported, “The move comes as governors, particularly Republican state leaders, say the law is overly burdensome on the already stretched states. Much of the expansive legislation has to be implemented at the state level.”

Were the bill to be enacted, the most likely result would be that proposals threatening the most dangerous rationing would see new life in the states. For example, Vermont officials are pushing hard to secure a waiver to implement their proposed “single-payer” system – under which all Vermont citizens would be forced into a single state government health plan, subject to state budgetary limits, with no opportunity to choose other insurance less likely to ration. Said Senator Bernard Sanders (Socialist-VT), “At a time when 50 million Americans lack health insurance and when the cost of health care continues to soar, it is my strong hope that Vermont will lead the nation in a new direction through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer approach.”

While it is, in theory, possible for states to craft any sort of plan they wish within the requirements, it is difficult to see how the Obama administration might approve ones that did not dramatically curtail what people are allowed to spend for their health care. It is precisely the policy of preventing people from being allowed, if they choose, to use their own funds to keep up with health care inflation that creates the gravest threat of rationing.

The Senate proposal may have a difficult time in the House, where congressional Republicans want states to have much more flexibility. Inside Health Policy wrote that the plan to bump up the waiver dates, “was met with disdain from GOP lawmakers, who said the opt-out criteria are too stringent and called the move a confession that the bill is unworkable in its current form.”

Politico reported, “Mandating many of the same requirements, this plan would treat states as agents of the very law these governors are running away from,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner. “A better approach would be working with reform-minded governors to give states more flexibility . . . . Now that the administration has conceded that Obamacare is unworkable, we hope they will work with us to repeal the law and replace it with common-sense reforms . . . .”