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Weekly Column: Obamacare and the "Broccoli Mandate"


Location: Unknown

By Senator Jon Kyl

The health-care law known as ObamaCare will celebrate its first birthday on March 23. Let's take a look back at some of the highlights.

March 23, 2010: President Obama signs ObamaCare into law. At the signing ceremony, Vice President whispers his congratulations to the President. A nearby microphone picks up the VP's "colorful" choice of words.

Later that day, 13 states file a lawsuit against the new law in a Florida federal court; another 13 states have joined that suit since. In addition, Virginia files its own separate suit on the day of enactment.

May 11, 2010: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office revises upward its cost estimate of ObamaCare. According to the CBO, ObamaCare will cost $115 million more than originally estimated, pushing the cost of the program over $1 trillion.

June 2010: With public opinion still decidedly against the law -- a poll at the time found that 58 percent of Americans supported repeal -- the Department of Health and Human Services launches a public relations campaign to change people's minds.

Many seniors receive a pamphlet from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that makes claims like, "Your guaranteed Medicare benefits won't change -- whether you get them through Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan."

But the pamphlet fails to mention the fact the law cuts Medicare Advantage plans by $202 billion over 10 years -- meaning higher premiums, less benefits, and fewer plan choices for seniors. The CBO estimates that the extra benefits currently provided by MA plans will be cut in half.

July 7, 2010: President Obama uses a recess appointment to name Donald Berwick administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency that will play a critical role in the implementation of ObamaCare. The President used this procedure in an attempt to bypass the regular confirmation process, before the Senate had held a hearing or voted on the nominee.

A hearing would have given senators the opportunity to question Dr. Berwick about his controversial views, including his espousal of health care rationing. He has, for example, praised the British national health-care system, which routinely denies and rations care, as "extremely effective" and "conscientious."

August 2010: The Administration's public relations blitz continues, and Andy Griffith is recruited for the cause. Sheriff Taylor (or Matlock, depending on your taste in television) appears in a commercial to tell seniors that their Medicare benefits will remain the same. Like the HHS pamphlet that was sent a few months earlier, this commercial fails to mention the cuts to Medicare Advantage plans, and the effects those cuts will have.

September 24, 2010: The Department of Health and Human Services issues its first waiver of ObamaCare provisions dealing with limited benefit, or "mini-med" plans. Since then, 732 more waivers have been granted to the Administration's favored political constituencies.

December 13, 2010: A federal district court judge in Virginia rules that the law's mandate that individuals purchase government-approved health insurance is unconstitutional.

January 19, 2011: The House of Representatives votes 245 to 189 to repeal ObamaCare.

January 25, 2011: Governor Jan Brewer asks Secretary Sebelius to waive the "maintenance of effort" provision in the ObamaCare law. The provision requires states to maintain their current Medicaid rolls -- an obligation that many states cannot afford.

January 26, 2011: Medicare Chief Actuary Richard Foster testifies before the House Budget Committee. He tells the Committee that President Obama's promise that Americans will get to keep their coverage if they like it is "not true in all cases."

January 31, 2011: A federal district court judge in Florida rules that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and invalidates the entire law.

February 2, 2011: Senate vote to repeal the law fails, 47 to 51, with all present Senate Democrats voting against repeal.

February 22, 2011: A Clinton-appointed federal judge in the D.C. rules that ObamaCare is constitutional because the Constitution somehow permits the federal government to regulate "mental activity." So much for keeping your thoughts to yourself.

March 3, 2011: At the request of the Obama Administration, the federal district judge in Florida who previously ruled that ObamaCare is unconstitutional, clarifies his ruling and notes his continuing concern with the fact that, if the law is upheld, "Congress could, indeed, mandate that everyone buy broccoli."

The debate on the health-care law will no doubt continue well into this year. Indeed, now thattwo federal courts have already ruled that it is unconstitutional, Supreme Court review is just a matter of time.

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