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Posts tagged ‘Public Health Service Act’

Obamacare to Cover Married Gay Couples in 2015.


Married gay couples will be eligible for a family health policy under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law beginning in 2015, the government said on Friday, encouraging insurers to begin offering coverage this year.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also announced it would extend for one month a temporary program that offers insurance to some of the sickest Americans, who have had trouble finding private plans in new health insurance marketplaces set up in all 50 states under Obamacare.

Friday’s announcements add to the series of delays and modifications the administration has made to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, since the law was enacted in 2010 and formally launched last October.

Obamacare’s six-month enrollment period ends March 31. And with volume expected to surge in the final two weeks, officials say the website HealthCare.gov continues to operate smoothly after technical problems in October and November paralyzed the portal for consumers in 36 states. The remaining 14 states run their own markets.

About 4.2 million people have enrolled in private Obamacare health plans so far, and millions more have been found eligible for the Medicaid program for the poor, according to the administration.

It continues, however, to wrestle with complicated and controversial issues related to the law.

In its decision on gay couples, HHS exercised federal authority to prevent discriminatory insurance market practices on an issue that has been caught up in state marriage laws.

The move follows a February lawsuit filed by an Ohio gay couple, who were unable to obtain family coverage under Obamacare, they said, because their state does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The gay community is a key constituency for Democrats, who are facing a Republican onslaught over Obamacare in this year’s midterm elections for control of Congress.

“If an insurance company offers coverage to opposite-sex spouses, it cannot choose to deny that coverage to same-sex spouses,” Dr. Matthew Heinz, who heads HHS outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual communities, said in a posting to a government website.

“In other words, insurance companies will not be permitted to discriminate against married same-sex couples when offering coverage. This will further enhance access to health care for all Americans, including those with same-sex spouses.”

A formal clarification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the lead Obamacare agency within HHS, said the administration is encouraging insurers to voluntarily implement the non-discrimination policy for the 2014 coverage year under the Public Health Service Act.

Compliance will be required starting in 2015.

“We expect issuers to come into full compliance with the regulations as clarified in this guidance no later than for plan or policy years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2015,” CMS said.

“We also expect states to begin enforcing the regulations in accordance with this clarification no later than for plan or policy years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2015,” it said.

Administration officials said the gay marriage decision and extension of the program for people with pre-existing conditions, known as the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), were both intended to help Americans transition to the new healthcare era established by Obamacare.

The law requires most Americans to pay a penalty unless they are enrolled in insurance coverage by March 31, which is also when the PCIP program was set to expire.

Patient advocates welcomed the move, saying people with cancer, multiple sclerosis or other serious disorders need time to find insurance plans that meet complicated healthcare needs.

“We encourage patients in PCIP to look at other insurance options, including the health insurance marketplace at HealthCare.gov, as soon as possible so they are assured of coverage beyond the short term,” the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said in a statement.

The extension came a day after U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told lawmakers in Congress that the enrollment deadline would not be delayed.

Administration officials said the PCIP program was being extended through April 30, under congressional authorization that has already allowed for two other extensions. PCIP was originally intended to expire at the end of 2013, but was extended first through January and later through March. (Reporting by David Morgan, editing by Karey Van Hall and Gunna Dickson)

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

GOP Sees Obamacare Solicitations as New Scandal Facing White House.


Just as the Obama administration continues to reel from three major scandals, Republicans are zeroing in on yet one more — this one involving Obamacare as it nears implementation.

GOP legislators are targeting Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the solicitations she made to some of the nation’s top insurance companies and other groups for donations to Enroll America, the nonprofit group charged with selling Obamacare to the public.

Urgent: Is Obama Telling the Truth on IRS, Benghazi Scandals? 

“Our guys on the Hill think this is the fourth scandal,” Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak told Reuters this week. “It fits into that narrative Republicans are building not only about incompetence in the executive branch but also dishonesty.

“This is a good issue for Republicans,” he added. “We want to maximize it.”

Now under question are forays by Sebelius to two private entities, H&R Block Inc., the tax preparation company, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic entity devoted to public health issues.

Republicans say the practice, which if not unprecedented, is at the very least unusual.

Federal law bars officials from soliciting any organization or individual with whom they do business or regulate — though neither entity is regulated by HHS.

“People are watching it very closely,” GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, told Reuters. “We’re hearing about it from constituents, people who are incredibly concerned.”

An HHS statement last week disclosed the two solicitations, Reuters reports. The agency this week declined to provide the news organization with a list of all solicitations before or after March, when Sebelius began approaching groups by telephone.

“We received a phone call from the secretary during which the secretary discussed supporting Enroll America,” H&R Block told Reuters in a statement. “While we took her suggestion under consideration, we have made no commitment.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said in a statement, that it had “recently approved new funding” for Enroll America, bringing its total contributions to the group to nearly $14 million since 2010.

The foundation did not say, however, how much of that — if any — resulted from Sebelius’ solicitation.

Enroll America, founded in September 2011, is run by President Barack Obama’s former campaign backers.

The group seeks to be the private sector’s point group for a huge public outreach campaign intended to get millions of uninsured Americans to sign up for subsidized insurance coverage through new online marketplaces, or exchanges, that will begin open enrollment on Oct. 1.

The Enroll America controversy is the second questioning the approach used by the Obama White House to promote Obamacare: utilizing campaign-style organizations staffed with loyalists and former campaign or White House aides to mobilize grassroots support for government policies.

The first involved Organizing for Action, an independent nonprofit organization seeking to harness both the energy and personnel from Obama’s re-election campaign in support of the president’s legislative agenda.

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee expanded its probe into Sebelius’ actions on Friday by writing letters to 15 insurance companies and other groups asking whether the secretary had asked them for donations to Enroll America.

The letter asked companies to provide any communications — including emails — that document conversations with Sebelius or discussions about her request.

In the letter, committee chairman Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan cited a possible conflict of interest, since “HHS regulation of the health insurance industry will only grow under [healthcare reform], including by approving health insurers to participate in the exchanges,” The Hill reports.

The companies that letters were sent to include Aetna, Blue Shield of California, Cigna, Coventry Health Care, HCSC Group, Highmark, Humana, Independence Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente, United Healthcare, WellPoint, America’s Health Insurance Plans, BlueCross BlueShield Association, and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

GOP legislators have also asked the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to investigate.

Urgent: Is Obama Telling the Truth on IRS, Benghazi Scandals? 

Sen. Lamar Alexander, who also represents Tennessee, has charged that the Sebelius solicitations violated the federal “anti-deficiency” act, which bars agencies from accepting “voluntary” services except when authorized by law.

But an HHS spokesman countered to Reuters that the Public Health Service Act allowed the secretary to encourage support for new and innovative health programs, including Enroll America.

The Sebelius flashpoint comes as the White House fends off criticism about its handling of the attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans; the Internal Revenue Service‘s targeting of tea party, conservative, and religious groups; and the Justice Department’s secret seizure of telephone records of editors and reporters at The Associated Press.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Todd Beamon

Republicans See New Scandal in Sebelius Fundraising.


Image: Republicans See New Scandal in Sebelius Fundraising

With the White House already reeling from three major controversies, some Republican lawmakers are zeroing in on what they perceive is another possible scandal tied to President Barack Obama’s landmark health reform law just as it nears implementation.On top of the troubles the administration is facing over its handling of the attack on the Benghazi mission, the Internal Revenue Service‘s targeting of conservative groups, and the Justice Department‘s seizure of Associated Press phone records, Republicans hope to target Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

They are questioning her soliciting of funds on behalf of a non-profit group, called Enroll America, from two private entities, a practice which if not unprecedented is at the very least unusual. Federal law bars officials from soliciting any organization or individual with whom they do business or regulate.

Enroll America is run by the president’s former campaign backers to do something Congress refused to fund: sell “Obamacare” to the public.

An HHS statement last week said that since March Sebelius solicited financial donations for Enroll America from H&R Block Inc, the tax preparation company, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic entity devoted to public health issues. Asked Monday for a list of all solicitations before or after March, an HHS spokesman referred Reuters to the department’s original statement.

Neither H&R Block nor the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are regulated by HHS, the department’s spokesman said, so there was nothing improper or illegal about soliciting them.

Enroll America is intended to serve as the private sector flagship for a massive public outreach campaign intended to get millions of uninsured Americans to sign up for subsidized insurance coverage through new online marketplaces, or exchanges, that will begin open enrollment on Oct. 1.

NO COMMITMENT

H&R Block said it has made no commitment to Enroll America. “We received a phone call from the Secretary during which the Secretary discussed supporting Enroll America,” the company said in a statement. “While we took her suggestion under consideration, we have made no commitment,” it said.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said in a statement that it had “recently approved new funding” for Enroll America, bringing its total contributions to the group to nearly $14 million since 2010. It did not say how much of that, if any, came in response to Sebelius’ solicitation.

It’s the second controversy over the novel method used by the Obama administration to promote its agenda: using campaign-style organizations staffed with loyalists and former campaign or White House aides to mobilize grassroots support for government policies. The first involved Organizing for Action, an independent non-profit group seeking to harness both the energy and personnel from Obama’s re-election campaign in support of the president’s legislative agenda.

The Enroll America issue is complicated by the fact that Republicans in Congress have succeeded in blocking proposed government spending that otherwise could have been used to achieve the ends pursued by the independent group.

That has given lawmakers, such as Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, an opening to allege a violation of the federal “anti-deficiency” act, which bars agencies from accepting “voluntary” services except when authorized by law.

In defense of the help the department is getting from Enroll America, an HHS spokesman said it is permitted by a section of the Public Health Service Act that allows the secretary to encourage support for new and innovative health programs.

Some conservative legal experts say finding a clear-cut violation of the law is a long shot. “I would be skeptical of the claim that it’s illegal, unless someone made a really compelling case. However, the appearance is such that it at least raises questions,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University who opposes healthcare reform.

But legal issues may be the least of the concerns for supporters of the healthcare law.

They worry that a political storm over Obamacare, with congressional hearings likely, could discourage private donors to Enroll America and jeopardize the administration’s ability to find the funds needed to reach a public that is already largely unaware of the healthcare reforms.

One of the biggest concerns is that younger, healthier people will not sign up for health plans on the exchanges, driving the costs up for coverage of the people who do sign up.

“The danger” to the health program, said former Obama healthcare adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle, “is that people don’t come and enroll and get insured. That leaves the health plans in the exchanges trying to cover people without any young, healthy people, and it drives the price up.”

REPUBLICANS PROMISE PROBES

Republicans certainly see an opportunity.

“Our guys on the Hill think this is the fourth scandal,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “It fits into that narrative Republicans are building not only about incompetence in the executive branch but also dishonesty.”

“This is a good issue for Republicans,” Mackowiak added. “We want to maximize it.”

The Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee has launched an investigation into the fundraising to determine whether it involved regulated companies and has asked nearly a dozen healthcare firms including major insurers such as Aetna Inc, a member of Enroll America’s advisory council, to say whether they have received solicitations.

Republicans in the House and Senate have also called on the non-partisan Government Accountability Office to investigate.

“People are watching it very closely. We’re hearing about it from constituents, people who are incredibly concerned,” said Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn.

Enroll America was launched in September 2011 in part by leaders of Families USA, a key backer of the healthcare reform effort as it moved through Congress in 2009 and 2010. It is led by Anne Filipic, who worked on public engagement projects in the Obama White House. It’s managing director, Chris Wyant, directed Obama’s eastern Ohio field operation during the 2012 election campaign.

It includes on its boards of directors and advisers, executives of Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Blue Shield of California, Kaiser Permanente, and CVS Caremark as well as officials of major health-related trade associations, such as the American Hospital Association and the National Association of Health Underwriters.

Filipic said she is confident that Enroll America will get the funds it needs for the outreach campaign. “We feel really good that we’ll have the resources we need,” she said.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Sebelius Health Fundraising Probed by Republican Lawmakers.


Image: Sebelius Health Fundraising Probed by Republican Lawmakers

The U.S. health secretary’s effort to raise money to promote the Affordable Care Act is drawing the attention of Republican lawmakers who want to know whether she solicited companies regulated by her agency.Republicans on two House committees that supervise the Department of Health and Human Services wrote Secretary Kathleen Sebelius late yesterday for information about her fundraising. Leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee also wrote 11 health insurers, including UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Aetna Inc., asking if they were solicited by Sebelius or her employees.

The health agency said last week that Sebelius had been calling advocacy groups, doctors, churches and “companies not regulated by HHS” since March, asking for contributions to an independent nonprofit group promoting the health law. The agency finds itself doing more work than expected as more than a dozen states refuse to cooperate and Congress rejects the president’s requests for more government money.

“It is clear that your department is scrambling to find funding from sources the law did not authorize,” Representative David L. Camp, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote Sebelius.

Jason Young, a spokesman for HHS, said Sebelius’s fundraising efforts are supported by a provision of the Public Health Service Act, and she has stopped short of directly soliciting companies her department regulates.

Agency History

“This provision has been in place since 1976, and has applied to and has been used by previous secretaries, including around the launches of Medicare Part D and the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” Young said in an e-mail. “It was even cited as part of President Reagan’s establishment of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.”

In a Senate floor speech yesterday, Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, compared Sebelius’s fundraising with the Iran-Contra weapons scandal under former President Ronald Reagan. Alexander questioned the legal basis for the fundraising in a letter and asked for records related to the calls.

“Fundraising in your official capacity as secretary for a specific organization that exists to promote the president’s health-care law and is controlled significantly by entities that have a vested interest in the law’s implementation is a far cry from what Congress intended” in the Public Health Service Act, he wrote.

Expanding Coverage

Medicare Part D is the prescription drug benefit established in 2003 under President George W. Bush for the government’s insurance plan for the elderly and disabled. The Children’s Health Insurance Program was created in the 1990s, to serve children of low-income families who weren’t eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor.

The Affordable Care Act would expand health coverage to about 27 million uninsured people by 2017 through a series of state-run health exchanges where residents would purchase subsidized insurance plans and through an expansion of Medicaid programs.

Sixteen states agreed to build exchanges, leaving Sebelius’ agency responsible for creating the marketplaces in 34. In addition, the federal government must find money to promote the law to ensure people use the exchanges starting Oct. 1 in large enough numbers to sufficiently spread the risks for insurers selling to them.

Shifting Money

Congress has rejected the administration’s requests for more than the $1 billion the law provided for the work. Lawmakers didn’t include $949 million the administration requested in a spending bill for the government for the duration of fiscal 2013. Instead, Sebelius has shifted at least $566 million from other parts of her department’s budget and plans to take about $454 million from an account established by the health law to fund preventive health efforts, according to the American Public Health Association.

The money Sebelius has been soliciting would go to Enroll America. Companies including Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland, California-based nonprofit insurer and hospital chain, and Israeli drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. joined with the consumer advocacy group Families USA to create Enroll America in 2011 to promote the health law. The group has been led since the start of the year by a former White House aide, Anne Filipic.

Filipic last week described the effort to promote the law as a partnership among government, for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Sen. Alexander: Investigate Fundraising for Obamacare Promotions.


Image: Sen. Alexander: Investigate Fundraising for Obamacare Promotions

By Sandy Fitzgerald

The Obama administration is defending the legality of soliciting donations to promote the healthcare-reform law, but Republicans led by Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander aren’t buying it. They plan to ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius solicited up to $10 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and $500,000 from H&R Block, among others, in a multimillion fundraising drive for Enroll America, which encourages people to sign up for health insurance under Obamacare.

Alexander claims the contributions are outlawed and compares Sebelius’ efforts to the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan presidency, arguing it is illegal to raise money for outside groups connected with the government when lawmakers refuse to appropriate money, as the Republican-controlled House did for Obamacare enrollment efforts.

According to The Hill, Alexander plans to ask the Government Accountability Office to examine the propriety of Sebelius’ Obamacare-enrollment fundraising campaign in light of the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits federal employees from bypassing the congressional appropriations process.

“The fact that Congress won’t appropriate more money for Obamacare isn’t a defense, because the precise point of the Anti-Deficiency Act is that if Congress won’t appropriate the money, the executive branch is not allowed to raise funds twisting arms in the private sector,” an Alexander spokesman told The Hill.

But HHS spokesman Jason Young argues that another federal law, the Public Health Service Act, does give Sebelius authority to raise private money “to support by grant or contract (and to encourage others to support) private nonprofit entities working in health information and health promotion, preventive health services, and education in the appropriate use of healthcare.”

The fundraising efforts are nothing new, Young said, and HHS sees nothing illegal about it.

“Part of our mission is to help uninsured Americans take advantage of new affordable, high- quality insurance options that are coming, thanks to the health law,” he said. “For the last several months, the secretary has been working with a full range of stakeholders who share in the mission of getting Americans the help they need and deserve.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Obama’s Health Secretary Seeks Donations From Companies for Obamacare.


Image: Obama's Health Secretary Seeks Donations From Companies for Obamacare

WASHINGTONU.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is asking companies for financial donations to help implement President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, months before it is due to take effect.In telephone calls that began around March 23, officials say, Obama’s top healthcare adviser has been seeking assistance from companies in the healthcare field and other industries as well as from healthcare providers, patient advocacy groups, churches and other charitable organizations.

“The secretary has been working with a full range of stakeholders … We have always worked with outside groups, and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work,” said Jason Young, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS declined to identify the targeted donors but said none of the companies are regulated by department agencies.

The administration’s aim is to win financial help for nonprofit groups, including Washington-based Enroll America, which are mounting a private-sector effort to persuade millions of uninsured Americans to obtain health coverage in 2014 through new online marketplaces, known as exchanges, slated to begin enrollment for federally subsidized private insurance on Oct. 1.

With Republicans in Congress unwilling to consider allocating new money to finance government outreach efforts, the White House and HHS have appealed to private sources, including the insurance industry, to help with an implementation effort that could lead to higher costs and jeopardize a cornerstone of Obama’s presidential legacy if it were to fail.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, blasted Sebelius’ action as “absurd.”

“Moving forward, I will be seeking information from the administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law,” he said in a statement.

HHS said the secretary began phoning companies after getting advice from department lawyers. “There is a special section in the Public Health Service Act that allows the secretary to support and to encourage others to support non-profit organizations working to provide health information and conduct other public health activities,” Young told Reuters in an email.

Related: President Declares Obamacare ‘Here to Stay’

Sebelius’ fund-raising activities were originally reported by the Washington Post.Organizations like Enroll America are expected to play a key role in public outreach efforts set to begin this summer.

A nonpartisan group dedicated to extending health coverage to nearly 49 million uninsured people, Enroll America’s board includes representatives from Teva Pharmaceuticals, the Kaiser Permanente health system and the American Hospital Association, a Washington trade group.

Enroll America President Anne Filipic said cooperation between the public, private and nonprofit sectors is vital to making sure the marketplaces are ready on time. “Secretary Sebelius recognizes the importance of the work Enroll America is doing and we’re thrilled to be working with her,” she said.

Obama defended his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Friday at a White House event intended to kick off the administration’s promotional campaign with a focus on the law’s benefits for women.

The president said he was “110 percent committed” to the law’s success and warned listeners not to be “bamboozled” by misinformation.

“This is too important for political games,” Obama said. “Regular access to a doctor or medicine or preventive care – that’s not some earned privilege, it is a right.”

The law is expected to provide health coverage to 38 million people by the end of the decade through the new marketplaces and an expansion of the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor. Some 7 million people are expected to gain coverage through the marketplaces alone in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans have turned up the volume on their opposition to the law. The House of Representatives is to vote next week on a Republican measure to repeal the law. Like three-dozen previous House votes to repeal or defund healthcare reform, the measure is expected to go nowhere in the Democratic-led Senate.

HHS officials say the department has put together $1.26 billion to finance Affordable Care Act implementation between now and Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. That includes an outreach campaign that has already cost $240 million, as well as funding for the establishment of 17 state insurance exchanges, and 33 others that HHS will operate in states that are either not ready or unwilling to run their own.

The exchanges are scheduled to begin operating on Jan. 1, 2014, when the healthcare law comes into full force.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

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