Obama’s “Death Panel” Moment

Between 2009-2010, the Obama administration incessantly bewailed conservative reliance on “fear-mongering” to forestall passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Responding to criticism first incited by a rather infamous Sarah Palin quote, the president admonished critics for accusing Democrats of “want[ing] to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma.” It was quite remarkable, then, when Obama-proxy Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, released a report yesterday claiming that repeal of Obamacare would jeopardize the coverage of half of all Americans because of latent pre-existing conditions. The falsity of this claim cannot be overstated, and it unfortunately represents the administration’s opening salvo in the upcoming battle to repeal Obamacare. And while the prospect of “death panels” is a dead issue these days, the administration seems to have acquired a new appreciation for the same empty scare-tactics it once derided during the health care debate. But will it be effective enough to save the bill?

The political function of the pre-existing conditions report was captured transparently enough by its title and the title of its accompanying press release: “129 million Americans with a pre-existing condition could be denied coverage without new health reform law.” Hearing this dire pronouncement — adroitly crafted to imply that 1 in 2 Americans is in imminent danger of losing health care coverage — one is almost tempted to sign up for the death panels.

Never mind that the prohibition on coverage denial for pre-existing conditions doesn’t even begin until 2014. Why haven’t we noticed the urgency of the situation before Obama and Kathleen Sebelius rescued us from certain demise? A presentation of the facts is needed to explain the peculiar discrepancy. In the first place, the report lets slip that the number of people who might have problems with a pre-existing condition could be as low as 50 million people. That is, anywhere from 19 to 50 percent (129 million) of people under the age of 65 could have a pre-existing condition — a wildly uncertain figure, which should immediately give pause.

However, even if we concede that “up to 129 million” Americans “have some type of pre-existing condition,” as HHS nebulously explained, what makes this obscurantist report completely irrelevant is that scarcely a fraction of 129 million people — or even 50 million for that matter — will ever be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. As Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the conservative Cato Institute rightly pointed out, only about 1% of Americans are ever denied health care coverage due to pre-existing conditions. In fact, a HHS survey administered in 2001 (yes, the same HHS) “found that…only 1 percent of Americans had ever been denied health insurance,” Cannon explained. In a two year period (between 2007-2009), the four largest private insurance companies in the country (Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group, and WellPoint) denied coverage for pre-existing conditions for about 300,000 people per year (about 600,000 total), less than .01% of all Americans. These figures come from a congressional investigation commissioned by leftist Rep. Harry Waxman (D-CA), intended to demonize private insurance companies.

What possibly accounts for the stark differential between the administration’s warning and reality? First, the sense in which HHS uses of the term “pre-existing condition” is overly broad to the point of being meaningless. This is in contrast to what insurers are actually allowed to classify as pre-existing conditions, which is highly restrict by the federal government. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), enacted in 1997, introduced a number of regulations to address pre-existing conditions. For instance, if you change jobs and subsequently change insurance plans, the new insurance company is only allowed to review the last six months of your health history for a pre-existing condition. This is usually defined as something that was diagnosed or treated during the six months prior to a person’s enrollment in the new insurance company.

Even so, periods of coverage exclusion are restricted to 12 months in most cases, although some plans may have shorter or nonexistent exclusion periods, as the Department of Labor explains. Furthermore, the exclusion period is typically waived by the insurance company. This is because HIPAA also has a “creditable coverage” provision, which basically stipulates that if an individual has had coverage for 63 continuous days prior to switching insurance companies, the coverage carries over to his or her pre-existing conditions. Thus, there is a very limited number of ways insurers are legally permitted to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Bearing this in mind, it is exceedingly difficult to not interpret the Obama administration’s claim that as much as half the population could be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions as a naked scare-tactic to diminish support for the repeal effort. It should be no surprise that the report was released on the same day as debate over Obamacare’s repeal geared up in the now Republican-led House.

The report’s purpose is clearly to mislead the public on the facts of pre-existing conditions — and it is frankly as wild a mischaracterization as anything that has come from the Right in the last two years. As deceptive as it is, this maneuver is of course prudent of the Obama team, as it capitalizes on one of the few advantages the administration has over the repeal effort. As is constantly pointed out by Obamacare’s proponents, there are select components of the bill that are very popular with the public. Regulations prohibiting coverage denial because of pre-existing conditions stand alongside other provisions, such as allowing children to remain on family plans until the age of 26, as measures the public will no give up readily. Exaggerating the consequences of repeal in terms of these provisions is obviously a winning strategy. It may be no more credible than Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” but as recent history has shown, even a dubious meme, if publicized enough, can have enormous consequences on the debate at large.

On the other hand, it is also clear enough that the administration’s first shot across the bow of the repeal effort is a sensational distraction from the more central issues of the debate. Obamacare, with its massive bureaucracy, regulation, and taxation, remains generally unpopular. The key pillar of the legislation — the universal insurance mandate — is even more disliked. A few demagogical stances may score cheap political points, but the overall success of Obamacare in seriously in dispute. If the legislation lives out the next two years more or less in tact, it will be a serious albatross around Obama’s neck as he struggles for re-election.

However, it is also true that the House repeal bill is little more than Republican bluster, as it is projected to die in the Senate after sailing through the lower chamber later this week. There is realistic hope, however, that piecemeal repeal will be successful, and it could very well be the case that the president’s stand on pre-existing conditions represents the first peg in a regulatory amalgam of both Republican and Democratic design. Would it weaken the president too much to accept this route of compromise? Perhaps it would help him.

  • Amused

    LOL….atleast we know where he's taking his ques from !

  • DogWithoutSlippers


    • Amused

      truth don't sit too well , does it ?

  • richard handwerk

    whatever he says, do the opposite.

  • richard

    heath care. i worked for years w/out it. sufffered serious health problems as well. only had it 2 times in decades. i would rather die than watch this country go down in smoke. this guy is a con artist. nothing more, nothing less. he never should have gotten into this office.

    • Amused

      Oh boy , you're a real trooper Richard , but lets see what happens when you really get sick , we'll see what maybe 10 bdays in a hospital will do to your bank account or life's savings .BTW , just FYI , the first "health care bill " was proposed by a "conservative " . Wanna make a guess who that was ? LOL…you might not be old enough to remember .

      • A. M. York

        Well, Amused, before we can logically (oh, that's unknown to most Leftists, isn't it?) debate the "conservative"'s health care bill, we'd have to actually compare it to the Obummer's. Few thinking people deny the need for health care reform, but the Government takeover of yet another private industry–and our personal choices–is not the answer! Are you aware that the Obummer voted against health care reform while in the Senate? Why didn't he at least advance hc reform when he could have, and then worked to make it greater? The answer, IMHO, is that his true goal has nothing to do with health care. His true goal is to turn this country into yet another failed experiment in socialism. The blood that will be shed may be your own! Blood? Yes! Every single time, without exception, that socialist or fascist totalitarianism has been tried, millions of innocent people died. Quit lapping up all the propaganda the Left is spoon feeding the masses and think for yourself, if you're able. Unfortunately, many of the younger Americans have been brain-numbed and cannot use their critical thinking facilities.

  • alexander

    when I "wildly exaggerate", they call me a liar…..

  • wingwiper

    The repeal effort, though repeal is best, is a totally wasted use of time with a predictable outcome. Hopefully breaking the Bill down into parts and refining those one-by-one will start happening very quickly – it must be completed in less than two years.

  • RiverFred

    Buried in the bill is a 3.8% tax upon the sale of homes starting in 2013, after the election of course. How do you take 500 BILLION from Medicare when Medicare reimbursements are already 20% below the national averages. Perfect timing for baby boomers. Obozocare is just a facist socialistic program. If it such a good program why is congress and the senate exempt from joining the program?

  • votedagainstoby

    The BARRY's pre-existing condition would be LIBRATARDATION.

    Is that covered now?

  • Lori

    Millions of Jobs will be on The Line also if The Health-care bill goes through all the way, Health-Care should Be More told by the Media to the people what it really is All about, The Media better get to the truth! I am talking Prime Time Media! They have A responsibility to tell the Truth. Health-Care Is A big Problem but the House better get It together and have A back up Plan In case this boomerand plan does not work, These people who seem to have been in Big to do College Places Know nothing of realism! This Plan to me Is Bogus and Morbid.

  • Greg

    BHO is the ultimate liar. When truth would serve better he must still lie. Pathetic as it is, the truth shows he is an ill man that chronically lies. Why would those around him be different?? Progressives learned from Stalin that the bigger the lie the easier it is to pass as truth. Dem's want only for all of us to go to the camps quietly and wait our fate as they deem it. Pray.

  • sneed5

    1. With 32 million new people brought into the healthcare system, healthcare will be cheaper. It should follow then, as an inevitable sequence, that when 70-80 million baby boomers get on the healthcare rolls that we wouldn't have to pay for ANY coverage! Perhaps we could England and get their people on our healthcare rolls. That should bring dividends our way! TIC 2. Some of the operative words the libs like to use("could" in the quote in this article) are: maybe, perhaps, should, might, etc., add no substance to a discussion–just oral rhetoric. To quote Samuel Goldwyn, "they aren't worth the paper they're written on."

  • Moop

    We could and (definitely should) "England."

  • hijinx60

    The Senate passed repeal but now we have to wait for the House where it will be fought by Pelosi and Reid. If it is made clear that there will be a government shutdown and no increase of the debt ceiling until it passes, it may pass. At least we can hope that they don't give up on just one try.

  • Amused

    Well , NOW.. we'll get a chance to see what the Republicans have to offer in the way of healthcare reform . I really do hope the Obama care is repealed , because we're approaching the "fish or cut bait " phase of the argument . Unless of course people think it's ok ,that an aspirin in a hospital costs $40 bucks , and healthcare costs are rising 39% every 2 or 3 years .
    BTW , dont count on a government shutdown , Gingrich tried that and it blew up in his face .Expect that dirty word …."compromise " ….lol…yup , this is gonn a be fun to watch .

  • Len

    No compromises! Repeal is the answer!

  • Amused

    Riiiight .But then the politicians will STILL have this growing problem staring them in the face AFTER the repeal [if in fact it is repealed ]. Patting each othert on bthe back will be short lived as costs continue t spiral upwards . And the "bluff " will be called .

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