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Elections Shouldn't Shut Down Government


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The State of Maine, as many states, is facing a budget crisis. In order to balance its books and keep away job-destroying tax increases, the Governor wants to refocus the state Medicaid plan on the neediest residents. While the state manages its plan, rules from Washington dictate how federal money can be spent.

To reorganize its program, the state had to apply for a waiver. Federal bureaucrats had 90 days to respond and used up 86 of them before sending back just two short questions that had little or nothing to do with the requested waiver. With the response filed, the Washington bureaucrats had given themselves another 90 days before they had to give the state a real answer.

Maine Governor Paul LePage thinks he knows what the hold up is: the upcoming election.

Elections matter. They set the course for our laws and our government. Federal workers should follow the laws set by elected leaders. However, we do have frequent elections. We can't have government officials or elected leaders sitting on their hands for one out of every four years.

For months now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Health and Human Services have been slow walking responses to questions from Congressmen or Governors or, in some cases, simply never responding.

Almost all of these questions are related directly to President Obama's signature legislative achievement--the health care law. Obamacare set an ambitious timetable for implementing radical changes to the health insurance market and to government programs.

Only a few months after the law was signed, deadlines for regulations were starting to slip. Now, states are busily engaged trying to modify their Medicaid programs and deciding whether to set up health insurance exchanges. The deadline for many of the biggest items is 2014, when individuals and businesses will have to purchase or provide insurance or face stiff fines and penalties.

You would think that Obama administration officials would be working to implement the law as soon as possible given how eager the President was to pass it. Instead, they've been ducking important questions because they would reveal the true effects of the law onfamily and state budgets.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine is studying whether Pennsylvania should establish a health insurance exchange or let the federal government take charge. The Department of Health and Human Services set deadlines for states to establish benchmarks.

Consedine wrote the Secretary of HHS on August 23 to ask detailed questions about the essential minimum benefits that will be required of health insurance plans. He got no answer. Again, he wrote on September 26 and has still not received a response.

In just a little over a year, states and insurers will need to have exchanges ready and running. Yet today we still don't know what the minimum requirements for participating in the exchanges will be.

The President has often tried to claim that his health law will save the American people money. So far, we've seen insurance premiums rising instead of falling. In fact, families buying insurance on the private market have seen premiums rise by more than $2,500 a year.

Releasing the minimum essential health benefits would make it possible to estimate just how expensive health insurance would be under the new law. HHS bureaucrats know that this would hurt the public's opinion of the law and so they are sitting on it, even though it could mean complicating implementation and maybe even delaying when exchanges open.

Months after the Supreme Court's decision on the law, which modified the Medicaid provisions, HHS has refused to put out instructions about what this will mean for states. Governors and state legislators have critical decisions to make, and they can't wait for when it is most politically convenient.

I don't believe Obamacare will work even in ideal circumstances, but it is bound to be a complete failure if deadlines are ignored for political reasons. The Energy and Commerce Committee, governors, and state officials have seen dozens of their letters and requests go unanswered in the past few months. We need a government that works all the time, not just when it benefits the President.

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