Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mary Landrieu and Obamacare

Note: This blog post is adapted from background research done by request; it does not read like my typical blog posts. :)

The question arose regarding where Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana stands regarding the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as "Obamacare".

Before I begin, I have a question:

Louisiana Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu
Official US Senate Photo

When we "little people" get a government photo, like for our driver's license, it never comes out this good. Why?


Anyway, I will begin by providing a summary of the situation, which is explained in The $4 Billion Typo in Obamacare's 'Louisiana Purchase', March 6, 2012 (see also The New Louisiana Purchase: Obamacare's $4.3 Billion Boondoggle).

When the Democrats were trying to pass Obamacare, they needed 60 votes in the Senate. This gave Democrat Senators who were not totally behind the program a disproportionate amount of influence, since Senate Democrat leadership would have to cut a deal with them to secure their vote.

A formula called the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) specifies how the federal government will assist state Medicaid programs, requiring the federal government to contribute at least half.

Both Senator Landrieu and Republican Governor Bobby Jindal were seeking additional federal money for Medicaid, though Governor Jindal did not want it to be part of the ACA. Specifically, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana was receiving a great deal of federal money, so Senator Landrieu wanted to seek increased Medicaid funding in order to gradually bring federal funding back down to the normal level, thus "weaning" Louisiana off the increased funding.

In an effort to buy Senator Landrieu's vote, Senate Democrats included some very complicated language that was intended to give an additional $100 million in 2011 and another $100 million in 2012.

Obama did not like the special deals needed to get Obamacare passed, but voiced support for this particular passage, incorrectly stating that it was not just for Louisiana, but for any state that had suffered a natural disaster, and thus would apply to Hawaii.

Later, though, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) looked at this passage, they came to the conclusion that, rather than phasing out the provision after two years, it actually increased federal subsidies to Louisiana. Specifically, in 2012, it was $700 million, then beginning in Fiscal Year 2013, it increased the federal share of Lousiana Medicaid from 61% to 72%. The total ran to well over $4 billion.

When the Republicans tried to fix it, the deal that went through Congress still left well over $1 billion of erroneously spent money for Louisiana. Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy [Landrieu's principal Republican contender, a congressman from Lousiana's 6th district, first elected in 2008, who previously served in the Lousiana State Senate for one term] then asked why this particular part of the law was being addressed, while leaving the rest of the law intact.

The $4 Billion Typo in Obamacare's 'Louisiana Purchase''s author, Avik Roy, finishes by pointing out that the entire law is crafted like this, poorly written and leaving loopholes that guarantee insolvency.

Be this as it may, Landrieu does not support repealing Obamacare. According to an article in a New Orleans news source, Sen. Landrieu joins 5 Senate colleagues pushing for changes in Affordable Care Act, dated March 26, 2014,

"I hear stories every day from individuals, families, and small businesses in Louisiana about how the Affordable Care Act is actually working to provide for first time quality and affordable choices in the health insurance marketplace," Landrieu said. "They often comment that they are extremely happy that this is coverage they can finally count on."

"However, from some constituents I have picked up a few recommendations about how this law can work better. As I have said from the beginning, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect. No law is. That is why I am happy to join with several of my colleagues to put forth some ideas to make it work even better. I hope some, if not all of these, suggestions will gain support from Republicans and Democrats to become law."

Landrieu's attempt to fix Obamacare was the theme of her first campaign TV spot for this election. According to a Louisiana news source Sen. Mary Landrieu releases television commercial, June 16, 2014,

Landrieu, D-La., filed the legislation last month after it was determined that the Affordable Care Act was leading to insurance companies canceling millions of individual insurance plans, including nearly 93,000 in Louisiana, for failing to meeting the health care law's minimum coverage standards and for not meeting the requirements of the law's grandfathered clause.

President Barack Obama had promised that people would be able to keep their insurance plans if they liked them, and Landrieu previously supported that assertion.

Landrieu's bill would require that insurance companies continue offering the plans that are being canceled. However, it is unlikely the Senate leadership will ever allow a vote on her bill.

Still, after facing pressure from Democrats, Obama announced a "fix" last month that would allow insurance companies to continue offering health insurance plans to customers next year that were in the process of being discontinued. The difference is that Obama's tweak allows, but does not require, insurance companies to keep offering the plans through 2014, while Landrieu's bill is a mandate.

Landrieu's new "Keeping the Promise" ad touts her legislative push and concludes, "The Result: People now allowed to keep health care plans."

The article states that the Republicans have criticized Landrieu over this:

The National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly responded Wednesday that Landrieu's ad is "the most disingenuous television ad of the year." The NRSC asserts that Obama and Landrieu knew years in advance that the health plan cancellations were coming and only acted at the last minute for political grandstanding.

"How can Louisianians trust anything Mary Landrieu says after she's repeatedly deceived them about Obamacare for the last four years and continues to do so today?" NRSC Press Secretary Brook Hougesen said.

In my opinion, Landrieu's crime is not in deliberately deceiving Louisiana or America. Landrieu's crime is doing what Pelosi suggested: passing the bill to find out what's in it. It is inexcusable that these people write laws that are longer than a contract with the devil. Congress should never pass a law that is so long it cannot be read and understood by one reasonably well-educated and prudent person in a reasonable period of time. Landrieu never should have voted for the law without at least having a staff member go through the entire thing, and point out potential problems. This is Landrieu's crime: not doing her job of protecting Louisiana and America while legislating in Washington.

In my opinion, the other main point concerning Obamacare is that, regardless of whether Landrieu backed into supporting it, was maneuvered into supporting it, or whatever, she supports fixing this monster, while her main opponent supports repealing it. For example, according to Americans for Prosperity hits Landrieu for ObamaCare support, February 12, 2014:

"Sen. Landrieu has always said the Affordable Care Act isn't perfect and supported numerous legislative measures to fix or improve it. When she learned that individuals who liked their health insurance could no longer keep it, despite the President's promise, she wrote legislation to insure that the promise was kept. As a result, the President issued guidance allowing states and insurance companies to renew individual health plans for another year," Landrieu's campaign said in a release Wednesday.

It should be noted that President Obama's "guidance" mentioned in this passage was a series of executive orders. From Obama's Executive Power Pen Is Already Worn Out, Februaru 24, 2014:

And speaking of the Affordable Care Act, Obama has found yet another use for executive orders: changing and amending his own laws. For awhile it seemed like every week brought yet another unilateral presidential amendment to Obamacare. Don’t like the mandate on small companies? Fine, we’ll just postpone it. How about the requirements on big companies? Fine, we can ease those too. In all, the president has issued 22 modifications or delays of his signature legislation.

(For a more complete accounting of changes to Obamacare, as of July 18, 2014, see 42 Changes to ObamaCare... So Far.)

I would further comment that, for all the bad press Republicans have received for their executive orders, it seems quite hypocritical that Obama is so over the top with his. Now in his sixth year in office, he has signed 183, compared to Bush's 291 in eight full years, and Clinton's 364 in eight years. (Source: List of United States federal executive orders.)

So, what I got from looking into this:

1) Landrieu should have had her people go over the entire law, rather than passing it and then trying to fix it.

2) Landrieu should be working to repeal the disaster, not fix it.

Even as it is, Landrieu has been characterized as "crawfishing", a Louisiana term for backpedaling. From Democratic Sen. Landrieu Walks A Fine Line In Red Louisiana, February 25, 2014:

When Landrieu became one of the most vocal critics of the botched rollout of the health care law, [Parish] Williams [fifth generation shrimp boat owner] says he thought that Landrieu was just trying to save her political skin in true Louisiana form — "crawfishing," he calls it.

"It means backing up. It's what it means — backing up," Williams.

If she really wants to do Louisiana and America a favor, she should crawfish all the way on Obamacare, and work to repeal it.

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