Friday, October 1, 2010

Her Holiness, Kathleen the First

Obamacare's HHS: like Renaissance Rome, but with a bigger budget.

Renaissance popes added to their wealth and power by granting indulgences—commutation of punishment for already-forgiven sins—to those who gave money to the Catholic church. Papal abuse of this process led directly to the Protestant Reformation.

We have no popes in America, but we have something even better: the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. The Pope may be closer to God, but Sebelius is in charge of an annual budget approximating one trillion dollars. And now, thanks to Obamacare, Sebelius has gained the power to grant indulgences. It is one of the most under-reported aspects of the new health law: the degree to which it aggregates tremendous power in the hands of the HHS Secretary. The McDonald’s brouhaha is case in point. Per the Wall Street Journal:
On Thursday, administration officials indicated they are hopeful that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be able to allow certain waivers to the requirement, but that it was too early to confirm they will. She must wait for guidance from state insurance commissioners, and the administration doesn't expect to release the agency's final guidance until December. The agency said the law gives Ms. Sebelius discretion to apply the requirement.

"We fully intend to exercise her discretion under the new law to address the special circumstances of mini-med plans in the medical loss ratio calculations," said Jay Angoff, a director at the Department of Health and Human Services. "We intend to address these and other special circumstances in forthcoming regulations."
Now, I’m happy for the 30,000 McDonald’s employees who may get to keep their health insurance after all, thanks to HHS’ hasty retreat. But Michael Cannon, my National Review colleague, makes a great point over at Critical Condition:
Sorry, but I don’t find it comforting that Obamacare gives HHS the power to waive these regulations on a case-by-case basis. Power corrupts. We’ve already seen HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius use other powers granted her by Obamacare to threaten insurers who contradict the party line about the law’s cost. The waiver power gives her another club to use against insurers and employers who complain about the law or donate to the wrong political campaigns. (Will Home Depot, Disney, CVS, Staples, or Blockbuster dare to misbehave?)

Any such criticism now triggers an autonomic reflex among administration spokesmen where they regurgitate the lines, “Americans have seen what happens when insurance companies have free rein. The Affordable Care Act ends insurance companies’ worst abuses.”

As if giving bureaucrats free rein to engage in abusive government practices is an improvement.
It’s a great setup for Sebelius. Health care affects every business in the country. And every business in the country now knows that if it publicly disagrees with Sebelius’ health care policy—what she calls “misinformation”—that business will place at risk its ability to receive the regulatory indulgences necessary to remain economically competitive. If you think there is too much corporate money in politics, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


  1. Avik,
    Enjoyed this post. The combination of wit, sarcasm and realistic depiction of a truly perplexing construct at HHS created by Obamacare is a little frightening.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your praise. Though, I do mostly try to avoid sarcasm -- sometimes I can't help myself! Something I continue to work on.