Nancy Pelosi has been proven correct once again. Remember when she said we wouldn’t really find out what is in the bill until it was passed. I hate to admit it, but we have found out so much since the bill was passed. Things like $500 billion dollars was double counted and thirty percent of employees will lose their company paid health care benefits are just two of the many revelations about the President’s signature legislation that the public was informed of after the bill’s passage.
The latest revelation? Through an unintended consequence, several million middle-class early retirees will get nearly free insurance meant for the poor. A married couple could have an annual income of about $64,000 and still get Medicaid, said the medicare actuary office. This could add up to three million people to what will already be a crowded patient pool
That’s because, in a major change from today, most of their Social Security benefits would no longer be counted as income for determining eligibility.
Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster says the situation keeps him up at night.
“I don’t generally comment on the pros or cons of policy, but that just doesn’t make sense,” Foster said during a question-and-answer session at a recent professional society meeting. It’s almost like allowing middle-class people to qualify for food stamps, he suggested.
“This is a situation that got no attention at all,” added Foster. “And even now, as I raise the issue with various policymakers, people are not rushing to say … we need to do something about this.”
The progressives who shoved the bill down the country’s throat say that the “oops” was a result of a well-meaning effort to simplify rules for deciding who will get help with insurance costs under the new health care law. Instead of rules in individual states, there will be one national law.
“This simplification will stop people from falling into coverage gaps and may cause some to be newly eligible for Medicaid and others to no longer qualify,” said Brian Cook, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Along with adding expenses to the federal budget, this unnecessary addition to the health care roles will hurt the already cash-strapped states.
But states have been clamoring for relief from Medicaid costs, complaining that just these sorts of federal rules drive up spending and limit state options. The program is now one of the top issues in budget negotiations between the White House and Congress. Republicans are pushing for a rollback of federal requirements that block states from limiting eligibility.
Medicaid is a safety net program that serves more than 50 million vulnerable Americans, from low-income children and pregnant women to Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes. It’s designed as a federal-state partnership, with Washington paying close to 60 percent of the total cost.
Early retirees would be a new group for Medicaid. While retirees can now start collecting Social Security at age 62, they must wait another three years to get Medicare, unless they’re disabled.
Some early retirees who worked all their lives may not want to be associated with a health care program for the poor, but others might see it as a relatively painless way to satisfy the new law’s requirement that all Americans carry medical insurance starting in 2014. It would help tide them over until they turn 65 and qualify for Medicare.
The actuary’s office said the 3 million early retirees who would become eligible for Medicaid are on top of an estimated 16 million to 20 million people that Obama’s law would already bring into the program, by opening it to childless adults with incomes near the poverty level. Federal taxpayers will cover all of the initial cost of the expansion.
A spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee, Erin Shields, said there is plenty of time to fix the problem.
“These changes don’t take effect until 2014, so we have time to review all possible cases to ensure Medicaid meets its mission of serving only the neediest Americans,” said Erin Shields.
But former Utah governor Mike Leavitt said these 3 million early retirees will “just add fuel to the fire,” bolstering the argument that some of Washington’s rules don’t make sense.
“The fact that this is being discovered now tells you, what else is baked into this law?” said Leavitt, who served as Health and Human Services secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
On the other hand, it proves that Nancy Pelosi was not lying (this time).