Speaking to the National Governors Association at the White House today, President Barack Obama endorsed legislation by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Scott Brown (R-MA) that would allow states to request waivers from some Obamacare mandates in 2014 instead of the existing 2017 date. President Obama claimed: “It will give you flexibility more quickly while still guaranteeing the American people reform.” Has President Obama even read the legislation? Because that is just plan false. Heritage Foundation Center for Policy Innovation Director Stuart Butler explained in the New England Journal of Medicine:
One [problem] is that it still locks the states into guaranteeing a generous and costly level of benefits. True, a state could propose alternative benefit requirements if they had the same actuarial value as those in the ACA. But the requirements go well beyond basic coverage, and the HHS secretary is the one who defines “at least as comprehensive” benefits.
Another major problem with the bill is that since ultimate waiver authority rests with the HHS secretary, the waivers granted would probably reflect the administration’s preferences. Senator Wyden claims that his legislation would allow conservative states to opt out of much of the ACA and implement consumer-driven coverage. But he admits that the secretary, not the state, has the final word over what is permitted.
As long as the HHS Secretary, whether it is Kathleen Sebelius or the next occupant of the office, has the final say on granting Obamacare waivers, then there is no real flexibility for states under Obamacare. All 50 of them would still be at the mercy of the whim of the HHS. The only real way to give states true flexibility on health care reform begins with the full repeal of Obamacare.
UPDATE: Politico confirms that Wyden-Brown has nothing to do with offering Obamacare critical states “flexibility” and everything to do with advancing single payer health care:
[A] White House conference call with liberal allies this morning says the Administration is presenting it to Democrats as an opportunity to offer more expansive health care plans than the one Congress passed.
Health care advisers Nancy-Ann DeParle and Stephanie Cutter stressed on the off-record call that the rule change would allow states to implement single-payer health care plans — as Vermont seeks to — and true government-run plans, like Connecticut’s Sustinet.
The source on the call summarizes the officials’ point — which is not one the Administration has sought to make publically — as casting the new “flexibility” language as an opportunity to try more progressive, not less expansive, approaches on the state level.
“They are trying to split the baby here: on one hand tell supporters this is good for their pet issues, versus a message for the general public that the POTUS is responding to what he is hearing and that he is being sensible,” the source emails.