Free Markets, Free People

insurance exchange

HHS Secretary threatens insurers with “exclusion” if they don’t toe the government line

America’s new “Health Care Czar”, aka Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, has issued a letter to the insurance industry telling them not so politely to shut up or pay the consequences.

The letter, sent to Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans — the chief lobbyist for private health insurance companies – makes it clear in no uncertain terms that any complaints that ObamaCare is causing insurance premiums to rise is unacceptable:

"There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases."

But that’s not the real problem, that’s just the warning.  Then there’s the threat:

"We will also keep track of insurers with a record of unjustified rate increases: those plans may be excluded from health insurance Exchanges in 2014."

One has to wonder though, whether Sebelius will also track the misinformation put out by the administration and her department.  Such as the implication that no such increases are caused by the law or that any such increases are “minimal”, i.e. in the 1 to 2% range.

That’s just poppycock.  

As Time magazine’s Karen Pickert points out, Sebelius ignores the fact that individual insurance plans cover different types of populations. So that government and "some" industry and academic experts think the new law will justify increases averaging 1 percent or 2 percent, they could justify much larger increases for certain plans.

Or as Ignagni, the recipient of the letter, says, "It’s a basic law of economics that additional benefits incur additional costs."

In other words, mandated coverage – with which the law is loaded – costs money.  Whether or not you want it isn’t the point.  You’re going to get it and as expected, that means the cost of your insurance premium will go up.  If, for instance, you’re carrying a minimal coverage policy with fewer benefits than those mandated by ObamaCare, your insurance coverage is about to change dramatically and so is the cost.

But insurers better shut up about the increased cost or, at least, not blame it on ObamaCare or, per the HHS Secretary’s threat, they’ll be “excluded” from the government takeover underway.

As Michael Barone notes today in his Townhall column:

The threat to use government regulation to destroy or harm someone’s business because they disagree with government officials is thuggery. Like the Obama administration’s transfer of money from Chrysler bondholders to its political allies in the United Auto Workers, it is a form of gangster government.

"The rule of law, or the rule of men (women)?" economist Tyler Cowen asks on his marginalrevolution.com blog. As he notes, "Nowhere is it stated that these rate hikes are against the law (even if you think they should be), nor can this ‘misinformation’ be against the law."

That, however, doesn’t apparently stop an administration with increasingly totalitarian tendencies from threatening insurers with the loss of their business if they don’t comply and keep their explanations to themselves.

This is outright thuggery.  As Barone points out, this certainly isn’t the first example we’ve seen, nor is it most likely to be the last.  This is pure and blatant intimidation.  There’s no place for this sort of nonsense in democratic republic one of whose founding principles is freedom of speech.

Secretary Sebelius should withdraw the letter immediately and apologize for the threat she issued to the industry as a whole.  She should also understand that she doesn’t get to decide what is or isn’t “misinformation” or how insurance companies choose to present the inevitable premium increases driven by ObamaCare to their customers.

If she feels there is misinformation out there that is actionable, then she has a court system on which to rely.  My guess is she knows she hasn’t a case and thus is reduced to threatening insurers instead, hoping they’ll be cowed into compliance.

Your “hope and change” government at work.  

~McQ

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IBD Stands By Story About Private Health Insurance

Last week Investors Business Daily ran an editorial claiming that the new 1018 page House health care reform bill had a provision (on page 16) that outlawed private insurance.

Well they caught some flak for that, with detractors claiming that they didn’t read far enough and had they done so they’d have found that wasn’t the case. IBD did the right thing and did indeed go back an revisit their claim.

Conclusion – they stand by their story. Here’s why:

Our impression was further confirmed Monday when Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking member on Ways and Means, told us that “any existing plan will not be able to enroll members.” There will be “a prohibition,” the Michigan Republican said, “on enrolling individuals in private health plans” after the bill becomes law in 2013.

It was also confirmed by Ways and Means staff director Cybele Bjorklund, who, in response to questions from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin during a committee markup session, admitted last week that insurance providers “cannot create new policies outside of that window outside of the exchange.”

Many of those who have said we are wrong pointed to this health care exchange mentioned by Bjorklund as evidence.

But the exchange will not be a private market. It will be a program in which Americans can buy individual plans from private companies in competition with the “public option” provision of the bill that will provide taxpayer-subsidized coverage.

So in essence you’ll be limited to an insurer on the exchange, with all the regulation and mandates applied which is turn competing with a “public option” plan. You can’t just call up a private insurer and gin up your own brand and level of coverage.

Instead, you’re limited to the slim pickin’s the “exchage” will offer:

The exchange will be a highly regulated clearinghouse of providers that meet the government’s standards. Only those providers that follow Washington’s stringent guidelines will be allowed to join this exclusive club.

The government, through an unelected health choices commissioner, will set premiums, dictate benefits, determine deductibles and establish coverage. Exchange participants will be required to insure anyone who asks to be covered and to accept all renewals. Ryan believes the weight of the mandates will mean only five or six providers will be able to survive and sell coverage in the exchange.

Yes friends, as we’ve seen so often from this administration already, this is government picking winners and losers. From 1300 competing insurance providers today to “five or six”. That’s the government’s idea of “competition?”

And again, to reinforce the point, that is the only place you’ll be able to get your insurance should, for instance, you change a job. Or, as anticipated, your employer opts to quit providing it and essentially points you toward the exchange.

Even Henry Waxman admits this even while trying to convince reporters that IBD had it wrong in their first editorial:

In trying to prove the exchange will be a private market, the bill’s own supporters actually prove our point. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., complains in a letter that last week’s editorial is “factually incorrect and highly misleading” yet admits three paragraphs later that outside the exchange, providers “can’t continue to market” existing “policies to new customers.”

Restraint of trade by regulation. Insurers are limited to the “exchange” and if not on the exchange, they’re essentially not in the health insurance business other than servicing existing policies. Obviously as their pool shrinks, their prices will go up, causing their pool to shrink further. That’s competition? That’s a “market”?

As John Stossel said the other day:

Like the politicians, most people are oblivious to F.A. Hayek’s insight that the critical information needed to run an economy — or even 15 percent of one — doesn’t exist in any one place where it is accessible to central planners. Instead, it is scattered piecemeal among millions of people. All those people put together are far wiser and better informed than Congress could ever be. Only markets — private property, free exchange and the price system — can put this knowledge at the disposal of entrepreneurs and consumers, ensuring the system will serve the people and not just the political class.

Yet here again we have the central planners deciding what will be a “market” and of what it will consist. I hate to break it to them, but that’s not at all a market. It’s an artifice created by legislators to give the veneer of competition to a “market” that is decidedly not one.

Instead:

Anything that is primarily steered by the hand of the government rather than the price signals that free markets so efficiently process on a daily basis would be an agency of the state.

The artificially legislated bars to entry will make this a captive process of the state.

And lastly:

Perhaps most damning to the argument of those who say we are wrong about the House bill outlawing new individual private coverage is the creation of the exchange itself.

If getting coverage from the exchange is the same as buying insurance in the private market, then why do we need it? The authors of the bill could have kept the private option by doing nothing.

In fact, if they really wanted a “market” and “competition” they should remove mandates and allow consumers to buy health insurance products across state lines. Allow the consumer to decide the type of coverage he wants and the amount he’s willing to pay. Review that with Stossel’s point about markets and you’ll begin to understand the power such a market would have in lowering insurance costs without the government having to do much of anything.

What Adam Smith said about the economic planner applies here, too: The politician who tries to design the medical marketplace would “assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.”

They don’t want competition, folks – they want control. And history tells us where that leads.

~McQ