A Friday announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that it would weaken fraud-prevention measures in President Obama’s health care law provides a huge opening for Republicans.
To recap, as originally envisioned, Obamacare’s new insurance exchanges were supposed to be able to quickly verify information provided by applicants against multiple databases before providing beneficiaries with taxpayer subsidies to purchase insurance. But under the gun to get the exchanges up and running by the Oct. 1 deadline, HHS decided to substantially weaken the requirements and rely increasingly on applicants’ personal claims about their income level and insurance status, thus increasing the likelihood of fraud.
If Republicans were smart, they’d draft a bill based on the following mantra: “No Subsidization Without Verification.” That is, they should take a stand that nobody can receive subsidies through Obamacare before the government has a system in place that can independently verify the information as accurate.
If such a piece of legislation becomes law, it would effectively delay one of the central provisions of Obamacare indefinitely, because after more than three years, the government has not been able to figure out a way to meet the technological challenge of verification. As stated in the HHS rule published Friday: “After reviewing and considering the appropriate public comments and completing a technical analysis, we have concluded that the service described in the proposed rule is not feasible for implementation for the first year of operations. This service would involve a large amount of systems development on both the state and federal side, which cannot occur in time for October 1, 2013.”
Of course, Obama and his fellow Democrats would likely block such an attempt by Republicans. If they do so, they will be put into the position of explaining to the American people why they are willing to hand out a over a trillion dollars of taxpayer subsidies without proper procedures in place to prevent fraud. Preventing fraud in government programs can easily be a 70/30 issue with the American public. What makes this an especially indefensible position for Obama and Congressional Democrats is that they are already on record supporting tougher anti-fraud measures than the ones HHS just adopted, which is why they were originally a part of Obamacare. These anti-fraud measures are only being abandoned in the mad rush to shove as much taxpayer money out the door as quickly as possible.
If Republicans want to raise the stakes, they should consider making this a part of the fall budget battle. The logic for this is pretty straightforward. If there aren’t proper anti-fraud measures, it could potentially explode the cost of Obamacare. Furthermore, the exchanges are supposed to be up and running on Oct. 1, which is when the new fiscal year begins (and current government funding expires). Force every House Democrat to take a vote on whether they want to allow Obamacare to be implemented without the anti-fraud procedures that the administration once viewed as necessary. Let Senate Democrats explain that they are willing to shut down the government to prevent these once-crucial verification procedures from going into effect.
For Republicans, this strategy will have the effect of either delaying a big chunk of Obamacare indefinitely or further exposing that it is unworkable by forcing Democrats into an embarrassing and indefensible position.