HHS pays Obamacare insurers $3 billion that Congress never authorized
The Department of Health and Human Services paid $3 billion to Obamacare insurers as part of a program to limit their losses in covering reduced out of pocket consumer expenses like lower deductibles and smaller total health care costs per year.
The only problem is, that Congress never authorized the spending.
Health and Human Services spending on these cost-sharing payments is one of the issues named in House Speaker John Boehner’s lawsuit against the Obama administration's executive actions on Obamacare.
In a Feb. 3 letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Ryan, along with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., asked for “a full explanation for, and all documents relating to” the administration’s decision to make the cost-sharing payments without congressional authorization.
In response, on Wednesday, the Treasury Department sent a letter to Ryan largely describing the program, without offering a detailed explanation of the decision to make the payments. The letter revealed that $2.997 billion in such payments had been made in 2014, but didn't elaborate on where the money came from. Over the next decade, cost-sharing payments to insurers are projected by the Congressional Budget Office to cost taxpayers nearly $150 billion.
Instead of detailing the basis for making the payments without appropriations, Treasury officials cited the ongoing House GOP litigation, and referred Ryan to the Department of Justice.
In a brief filed on Jan. 26, DOJ lawyers wrote that the Boehner lawsuit was incorrect in saying that the payments required annual appropriation. “The cost sharing reduction payments are being made as part of a mandatory payment program that Congress has fully appropriated,” the brief read.
But this argument is undercut by the administration’s own previous budget request.
For fiscal year 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (the division of Health and Human Services that implements the program), asked Congress for an annual appropriation of $4 billion to finance the cost-sharing payments that year and another $1.4 billion “advance appropriation” for the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, “to permit CMS to reimburse issuers …”
In making the request, CMS was in effect acknowledging that it needed congressional appropriations to make the payments. But when Congress rejected the request, the administration went ahead and made the payments anyway.
Laws are for little people and we'll decide when and how to spend the people's money. What's that? The Constitution says what about how taxpayer money is spent? Hah! What do they know. They've all been dead for 200 years. To all you Congress people, sit down, shut up, and let us be.
For the American system of government to work, the people charged with making it go - both elected and unelected - must have a fundamental respect for the law and the self restraint necessary not to go beyond the bounds set by the Constitution. We don't see it from this administration or the departments they're in charge of running.
A second grader knows that only Congress can appropriate funds. And even though CMS apparently agrees with that, the managers at HHS don't. Unfortunately, unless both the House and Senate order the insurance companies to return the funds - and President Obama signs the bill - HHS is going to get away with this.