Short Takes On News & Events

Harkin Accuses Administration Of ‘Robbing Peter To Pay Paul’

By Jenny Gold

April 11th, 2013, 3:46 PM

A Democratic senator chastised the White House Thursday for raiding the health law’s Prevention and Public Health Fund to pay for a program to help the uninsured sign up for coverage in new insurance marketplaces.

“This is robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, told a senior official at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “We’re not going to do that.”

The public blow-up underscored the administration’s challenge to find money to set up the 33 federally run or partnered marketplaces — the key way the federal health law is attempting to provide health insurance coverage to about 27 million people by 2016.

On Tuesday, the administration announced that $54 million would be made available to community groups in those states to help people sign up for insurance in the new online marketplaces that open for enrollment Oct. 1.  As it turned out, that money came from the law’s prevention fund, a part of the law that Harkin has championed.

The administration has struggled to finance some of the marketplaces because of how the law was written.  Congress gave states broad financial assistance to set up the marketplaces. But only 17 agreed to run them. No separate pot of funding was set aside for the federal or state partnership exchanges now being developed in the majority of states. Resources for those efforts have been further constrained because of the spending cuts imposed by budget sequestration.

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“This is above your pay grade, but I’m sending a message to those above you through you,” Harkin told Gary Cohen,  director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. “We’re not going to accept that. I believe the navigators need to be funded but to rob it from the prevention fund? That doesn’t go, and it’s not going to go. So I just want to make that very clear.”

The back and forth occurred one day after the Obama administration requested $1.5 billion to set up and run the marketplaces as part of its 2014 budget blueprint – funds not likely to be approved by the Republican-controlled House.

The Prevention and Public Health Fund has been pillaged by both parties.  President Barack Obama has repeatedly endorsed cutting its budget as a means to reduce the deficit, while Republicans have voted to repeal it or failing that, use the money for other purposes. The fund originally included $15 billion over 10 years but last year, Congress cut $5 billion to extend the payroll tax holiday.

Harkin said the administration had assured him then that no additional money would be pulled.

5 Responses to “Harkin Accuses Administration Of ‘Robbing Peter To Pay Paul’”

  1. Aquifer says:

    Good for you, Harkin! But lotsa luck – scrap the whole thing and fight for single payer – that should have been done in the first place – leaving private insurers in the mix has been the Achilles heel of the program from the get-go – you wouldn’t need to steal any money from a prevention fund to set up “exchanges” because no “exchanges” would be needed – the only exchange that should be made is single payer for this boondoggle …

  2. Rondo says:

    Like the post office and the military demonstrate to us every day, choosing the government to create an efficient healthcare delivery system is a brilliant idea!

  3. walter says:

    Americans pay twice as much for healthcare as any other industrialized nation. Why? Because we allow insurance companies to write our healthcare laws. Is that so hard to understand? Not to mention, America ranks 37th worldwide in infant mortality. Not to mention, America has over 50 million uninsured that routinely use the emergency room for all of their healthcare needs. Not to mention, America has another 25 million that are uninsured and don’t find out until their insurance company refuses to pay claims. America has the greatest healthcare system in the world? Yeah, but only for those that belong to the top 1 percent of incomes!

  4. Larry G. says:

    Agree 100% with Aquifer. This entire ACA is a waste of time and money. A single payer, Medicare for All system is the only way to create a healthcare system. This discussion has been hijacked by private insurers and their Congressional puppets to revolve around payment for care. The real concern is not money but comprehensiveness, quality and efficiency. Only a non profit, single payer system can provide those attributes. Even the paranoid criminal Nixon though Kaiser-Permanente could be a model for a national healthcare system. Let’s stop talking about insurance and create a system to provde healthcare.

  5. Ray says:

    This is the only industry that has no pricing, no comparison, no shopping around. Would you buy a car without having the ability to see the price before being locked into a lease? Would you shop in a store that had no prices?

    Make prices public. Use insurance for “catastrophic” coverage only (your worse case scenario 6-figure bills after something major, what insurance was designed for in the first place. What it was used for for decades before this whole system went to hell). Pay out of pocket for checkups, x-rays, etc. I GUARANTEE prices will drop when people can compare facilities and are incentivised to do so by spending cash out of pocket. You can’t charge $13,000 for an MRI when the place next door will do it for $600.

    We think it’s insane for auto insurance to cover tires, brakes, oil, washes, and every ding or scratch. For some reason, we expect health insurance to cover every drug, consult, test, and bandaid.

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