Topics: Obamacare

Obamacare unlikely to operate during a government shutdown

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Beltway Confidential,Obamacare,Ashe Schow,Analysis,Tom Coburn,Government Shutdown

Despite the Congressional Research Service’s insistence that Obamacare would continue to be implemented even if Republicans succeeded in their defunding effort, the claim seems unlikely.

The CRS confidential memo to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., stated that in the absence of discretionary funding for fiscal year 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services is using other funding sources to implement Obamacare:

  • $235 million left over from the FY2012 Health Insurance Reform Implementation Fund,
  • $454 million from the mandatory Prevention and Public Health Fund,
  • $450 million from the nonrecurring expenses fund, and,
  • $116 million acquired by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebilius’s transfer authority.

The sole source for CRS’s information is an April article for Roll Call, which carefully noted that the funds listed above are not guaranteed.

“HHS hopes that Congress will give it the $1.5 billion for fiscal 2014 and that it won’t have to keep cobbling together money from other sources,” said John Reichard of Roll Call. “Both are iffy propositions.” (emphasis added.)

The problem with the CRS report is that the funds listed above are being used for Obamacare’s implementation this year, so there’s no guarantee that they will be available come October 1, when the next fiscal year begins.

CRS believed that the implementation fund would be depleted by 2012, but found out several months into 2013 that $235 million was left over. There’s no guarantee that any of that is still available.

Given that Congress denied an HHS request in March 2013 for $1 billion extra for implementation and that by May 2013 Sebelius was extorting private citizens for cash to continue financing the law, it is unlikely much of those funds are still available.

“We need to get that $1.5 [billion] in budget authority from the Congress,” said Ellen Murray, assistant HHS secretary for financial resources.

When Sebelius was asked about the likelihood of getting that funding, she said “This is an ongoing conversation with Congress.” (That’s Washington-ese for “probably not.”)

If congress gets to September 30 without a Continuing Resolution to fund the government, no new nonrecurring expenses funding would be available.

Sebelius could, in theory, transfer more money from other HHS accounts, but that carries the stigma of taking money away from other programs in order to fund Obamacare. This tactic is further hampered by the fact that under the authority granted to Sebelius by the Labor, HHS and Education act, Sebelius can only transfer 1 percent of funds from any account and can only increase the recipient account by 3 percent, according to the CRS report. She must also notify congress 15 days in advance of any such transfer.

Also, because these other sources are known, it could “spark attempts by Republicans to shut off those financing sources in fiscal 2014,” noted Reichard.

Of course, even if all these funding sources were tapped or shut down, the individual mandate would still be in place, meaning that even defunding the implementation and exchanges would not completely remove the law, according to the CRS report.

However, CRS overstated its case when it answered in its report with a clear and definitive “yes” to the question of whether state and federal exchanges would continue to be implemented during a government shutdown.

The truth is that there is no guarantee, as the sources may be dwindling. Without additional funds from congress it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Obamacare to be implemented with the funds it has remaining.

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