by Chris Huckins Google+ Email 


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23 July 2014

What Happened to Obamacare Tax Credits This Week? Pizza.

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What Happened to Obamacare Tax Credits This Week? Pizza.

Remember all those tax credits you qualified for under the Affordable Care Act, which essentially made health insurance...affordable? You may owe them back next tax season if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare for the second time this year. 

Coincidentally on the same day, in two separate trials, in the country's second highest courts, two sets of federal judges made opposite rulings over (what else?) Obamacare. But only one judge ruled with pizza analogies. 

In both cases, a single sentence in the 955-page Affordable Care Act was scrutinized. It goes like this: Tax credits are for qualifying people who "enrolled through an Exchange established by the State under 1311". Seems straight forward. So what's the need for pizza?

Before we get to that, it helps to know the terminology. An exchange is an organization that provides health insurance. Section 1311 says that states have a deadline to establish an Exchange.

Section 1321, which will be important coming up, says if a state doesn't have a "required Exchange operational" by a deadline, then the federal government (the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)) would establish "such Exchange". 

By the deadline, only 16 states and the District of Colombia established Exchanges: California, Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The remaining states relied on the federal Exchange, 

If the law is read literally, it would mean only residents in the aforementioned states with an "Exchange established by the State" would receive tax credits. In this case, it would be stupid for any state not to establish an Exchange. Clearly this wasn't the law's intent and wasn't how lawmakers communicated how tax credits would work. 

There are clear instructions to provide tax credits to states that establish an Exchange under 1311. But since there's no parallel in Section 1321 to clarify who gets tax credits for "such Exchanges", i.e. federal exchanges, opponents argue the latter are excluded from receiving tax credits.

Judge Gregory, who ruled in favor of Obamacare in the case, King v Burwell, used Pizza Hut and Domino's to compare state and federal exchanges. His point was to ignore Papa Johns, which hiked its prices to pay for Obamacare's large employer mandate and cut employee hours to limit who was eligible. 

Judge Gregory hypothetically asked a friend for a two topping pizza from Pizza Hut, but noted that he didn't mind if it came from Domino's. When his imaginary friend returned with a Domino's pizza and the correct toppings, he wasn't held in contempt. He was held in high esteem.

The judge explained his orders were followed according to his instructions: get a pizza with ham and pepperoni from Pizza Hut or get a pizza from Domino's. He didn't have to specify what toppings he wanted on his pizza if it came from Domino's. Common sense told the delivery boy to get the same toppings. 

Using common sense, the state exchanges and federal exchanges are interchangeable terms in the context of the law. They're both places to get health insurance with tax credits, only some states have "Pizza Hut" and others have "Dominos". 

Just because in 1311, tax credits are mentioned for people who sign up on an Exchange established by the state but not mentioned in Section 1321 where it discusses federal Exchanges, doesn't mean Congress wants no tax credits for these people. Similarly, just because the judge didn't mention what toppings he wanted on a Domino's pizza doesn't mean he wants no pizza. 

Congress' intent when passing this law was simple: to provide tax credits to those who qualified and enrolled through an Exchange.

In the other Obamacare case, Halbig v Burwell , the law was read without food analogies or common sense. The judges ruled tax credits were only valid in 16 states and Washington DC.

Neither ruling will jeopardize tax credits and the Department of Justice will take the case to SCOTUS as long as pizza is provided. 

Reading the law literally is dangerous, especially if the Second Amendment means we all have the Right to Grizzly Appendages: the surgery of which is covered by Obamacare. 

09 July 2014

Come See the Obamacare Freakshow... Literally

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A new anti-Obamacare ad starring "Creepy Uncle Sam" at the "Creepy Carenival" may not show any facts, but there is a midget serving mayonnaise ice cream cones.

Clear, compelling, succinct: Generation Opportunity, the Koch-backed political group and creator of the video, looks for these qualities in writers to share their arguments according to their website. But the latest convoluted message against the Affordable Care Act makes only one thing clear: they're still hiring. 

The ad begins in Everywhere, USA, where like all over America, people stand outside waiting for an inciting incident. And then the Obamacare ambulance comes disguised as a circus wagon. Or is a circus wagon disguised at an Obamcare ambulance? The confusion is just beginning. 

Emblazoned on the ambiguous vehicle are circus pictures with insurance puns like "Premium Fun" and "Take a Dip...In the High Risk Pool". These are the only "arguments" the ad makes against Obamacare. Unfortunately, they lack data to support them. I watched over and over for statistics on a mudflap or evidence hidden in the exhaust fumes, but my search, like GenOpp's message, was futile. 

The commercial continues as carnies rejected from American Horror Story: Freakshow's casting call erupt from the "Propogambulance" and subject onlookers to fair games with an insurance twist. A Creepy "Carenival" they call it. The ad makes Obamacare seem like a welcome wagon instead of a torture device. 

At one point a maniacal doctor throws knives at one guy tied to a wheel labeled with surgeries like "Appendectomy" but narrowly misses, hitting "Vasectomy" instead. Maybe the video's slamming doctors and Obamacare, maybe it's supporting them. The visuals are left up to interpretation. For me it looks like a guy walked up to a mobile clinic and saw a doctor right away: the opposite point an anti-Obamacare ad should be making. 

The anti-Obamacare mascot, "Creepy Uncle Sam" appears at the climax, but his unveiling is as anticlimactic to the audience as it is to the actors, who sigh, roll their eyes, and disperse as Sam tries impressing them with one last "tada!". Are the actors annoyed by the recycled mascot or recycled effort to repeal Obamacare? It's not clear, but an anti-Obamacare ad reaction video would probably show just as many eye rolls. 

The Creepy Carenival promoted in the video is really happening on July 23 at the National Mall in Washinton DC. And if the ad is any indication of how confusing the messaging will be, I'd rather try interpreting Cirque du Soleil.

No matter how many times you watch GenOpp's propaganda, you'll never find evidence of Obamacare's malfeasances, only the suggestion they exist through sight gags. While GenOpp's latest marketing ploy was confusing, others have been downright distasteful. 

Last year, GenOpp hosted a tail gating party complete with beer pong and pizza at the University of Miami-Virginia Tech. Not only did they fatten up students at a healthcare rally, but volunteers gave away "OptOut" (of Obamacare) beer cozies to college kids and suggested they should "opt out" of getting health insurance and pay the fine instead. 

But young invincibles (age 18-34) didn't get the message in California, where in the first year of open enrollment since Obamacare, young adults represented one-third of enrollees on private insurance plans and 40% of Medi-Cal sign-ups. 

Stay healthy, my friends. 

01 July 2014

How Hobby Lobby vs Obamacare is like a Pokemon Battle

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How Hobby Lobby vs Obamacare is like a Pokemon Battle

The Supreme Court decoupaged over reproductive rights, ruling Hobby Lobby Stores and other corporations can opt out of Obamacare's no-cost contraceptive benefits, forcing employees to pay out-of-pocket for services which are free to everyone else. 

It's not that Hobby Lobby is cheap. Birth control is paid for by the insurance company. It's not that Hobby Lobby is strategic, using more unwanted pregnancies to sell baby shower paraphernalia. 

Hobby Lobby is human. Using corporate personhood, the legal reasoning that corporations are people, Hobby Lobby can have a religious status on Facebook. Using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which says the government cannot burden someone's exercise of religion, Hobby Lobby can argue against laws, like the Affordable Care Act, that challenge its beliefs.

Since Hobby Lobby's owners believe some birth control ends life and because Obamacare includes contraceptives in every health insurance plan as an essential benefit, Hobby Lobby can take those provisions away from employees, according to the Supreme Court's ruling.

But are corporations limited to being people? What if Hobby Lobby wanted to be Pokemon instead? It already behaves like one. 

Essentially, Hobby Lobby's usage of religion as a sword and a shield is equivalent to the sword and shield pokemon, Aegislash. Its signature ability, "Stance Change" allows Aegislash to change forms in battle. When it becomes a sword Aegislash can impale opponents, like Hobby Lobby can wield religion as a sword to excise contraceptive benefits from employees' health insurance. When used as a shield, Aegislash protects itself like Hobby Lobby uses religion to protect its interests.

Those interests include Hobby Lobby's $73 million held in mutual funds with investments in contraceptive manufacturers. Even more ironically, Hobby Lobby's group insurance covered 16 contraceptives prior to 2012 - 2 years after Obamacare passed. Maybe it took a few years to notice the hypocrisy. Actually, it did. Should Hobby Lobby be compared to Slowpoke? 

If your job doesn't impose its religion- I mean provide group insurance, you can buy individual or family health insurance that covers preventive care, like preventable childbirth. 

Birth control is free, unless you work for Hobby Lobby, in which case your out-of-pocket payment can be kept in a craft tote with 49 other pockets. 

27 June 2014

Next Obamacare Open Enrollment is November 15 - February 15

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November 15 - February 15 isn't just the season of giving anymore, at least by Santa Claus's calculations and whoever made Black Friday before Thanksgiving. It's also the 2014 - 2015 open enrollment period for health insurance.

That means families who would buy a Wii U might consider a Kaiser Permanente Silver plan instead. Well, Billy has been asking for a new kidney all year. But Dad wanted to be Greninja in the next Super Smash Bros. What's a good parent to do? Blame Obama, of course. 

Originally, the open enrollment period for 2014 was October 15 through December 7. However, the President's administration pushed back the date to give insurers more time to price insurance plans.

Critics believe the President is just doing his party a favor, since Democrats have a chance to win a majority in the Senate if they do well in 2014's mid-term elections. Democrats who supported Obamacare want to avoid Obamacare technical problems like last year's or health insurance "sticker shock" from turning off voters. Instead, they'd rather turn voters off by placing a Covered California booth where the North Pole goes in the Topanga Canyon Mall. 

Open enrollment during the holidays just doesn't work for some people, especially the researchers at Health Affairs. A study suggested more Americans may buy health insurance during tax season, when the average refund is $3000 for income between $50,000 and $75,000, instead of the holiday season, when heating bills and Christmas gifts eat up expendable cash. 

Obamacare's first open enrollment season was twice as long, giving consumers more time to choose a plan from October 1 to March 31. And just when it wasn't long enough, technical problems and customer confusion over deadlines led to deadline extensions to April 15. 

Since the deadline cut into tax season, more people who just received their tax refund could afford health insurance. 52% of young invincibles (age 18-34), who typically earn less than older adults, picked a plan and 47% of people who signed up for subsidized health insurance did so in the last month of open enrollment. 

So the solution to extending open enrollment to tax season is to act confused? Perfect, considering you're probably still wondering why Pokemon are mentioned in a Covered California blog. 

26 June 2014

Covered California Adds Cedars Sinai and Thousands of Doctors

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"What insurance does Cedars Sinai take? HMO? PPO? Will my doctor know the Kardashians?" Out of all the confusion from Obamacare, these are the most frequently asked questions.

Ranked #13 in America's Best Hospitals, Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles was initially too expensive for Covered California to list as a provider when Obamacare plans debuted last year. In order to keep costs for health insurance low, Covered California and participating carriers had to limit their network, which meant hospitals used by Elizabeth Taylor were out. 

But like her White Diamond perfume, the smell of success was irresistible. Months into open enrollment, Anthem Blue Cross included Cedars Sinai to ensure customers getting colonoscopies for example got the Hollywood treatment. It was a little too late for most to realize. 

While Covered California's website debuted in October last year, it lacked a "Search for Provider" tool until November. After customers complained of duplicate and erroneous entries, the tool was taken down in February like an overcrowded Thai ferry. To discover if doctors accepted certain insurance plans, customers had to call and ask the old school way. 

Anthem Blue Cross quietly added 3800 doctors and hospitals to its Covered California networks during the first 5 months of 2014, including Cedars Sinai and UC Davis Medical Center. But only certain individual health insurance plans included these hospitals: 

Anthem Blue Cross EPO (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum), HealthNet Bronze PPO, HealthNet Catastrophic (for those under 30), and HealthNet Tribal (for Native Americans) 

Effective immediately, Anthem policies should include these hospitals, but it's definitely a good idea to confirm with the front desk. That means call Cedars because there still isn't a provider directory through Covered California. 

Due in part to the addition of pricier hospitals, President of Thousand Oaks's Anthem Blue Cross, Mark Morgan announced insurance premiums might go up 10 percent next year. That means less people can afford White Diamonds.