What if you had to choose between making insurance more affordable for Americans with pre-existing conditions or funding lobbyists and political hacks? That's the decision the House will face when it considers H.R. 1549, the Helping Sick Americans Now Act, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. It should be an easy choice.
Earlier this month, Susan Zurface of Hillsboro, Ohio testified before Rep. Pitts's health subcommittee.
"With my newly diagnosed illness, I was unable to find any health insurance coverage that would cost less than $350/month with a $10,000 deductible," the chronic lymphocytic leukemia patient said. The federal Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) was supposed to be there for people like her, but the administration closed it to new enrollees on March 2, citing a lack of funding.
The news stunned a woman identified by the Washington Post as Joyce, a 61-year-old Virginian with stage-four breast cancer, who saw the announcement and rushed to get her application in before the cut-off. I don't know whether Joyce was able to make the deadline or not, but I do know there are an estimated 40,000 other sick Americans, including Ms. Zurface, who will not be able to enroll if the program remains closed.
There is a simple solution. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has transfer authority under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to move money from the so-called Prevention and Public Health Fund (Prevention Fund) to the PCIP. If she chooses, she could use those funds to reopen PCIP enrollment and ensure that sick Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to the program. On March 5, House Republican leaders wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to reprogram those funds. Neither Obama nor Sebelius has responded or taken any action.
Perhaps that's because there are political incentives to keep the money where it is in the Prevention Fund, which is mostly in the business of doling out grants to activists, lobbyists, and P.R. pros to agitate for "public health" priorities like tobacco restrictions and anti-obesity campaigns including soda taxes, fast food restaurant bans, and changes to zoning codes to block convenience stores.
These Centers for Disease Control (CDC) grants, originally funded by the stimulus bill and continued via the Prevention Fund under PPACA, have been proven to include at least seven instances of directly funding lobbyists - a violation of federal law.
A new report issued by government watchdog group Cause of Action found that "the CDC permitted and even encouraged... grantees in Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and California to violate federal law and use... funds to lobby state and local governments. Internal emails, applications to the CDC outlining plans for the funds, and meeting notes blatantly show systemic corruption and use of taxpayer dollars for lobbying."
When the program was funded by the stimulus it was subject to tough transparency requirements that no longer apply, so abuses are even more likely now. And, rather than committing to crack down on illegal, federally-funding lobbying, President Obama has proposed loosening the legal restrictions; his budget would strike from the law language that prohibits Prevention Fund grants from being used to promote tax hikes, restrictions on consumer products, and gun control; the full array of left-wing political activism.
At the PPACA bill signing, President Obama said: "Tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with preexisting conditions... will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need. That happens this year." Yet now, for the rest of this year, it isn't happening.
The Helping Sick Americans Now Act would simply force Obama and Sebelius to do what they should have already done: transfer funds from the Prevention Fund to PCIP. Instead of sending out grants to left-wing activists to raise our taxes and restrict our freedoms, we could help 40,000 sick Americans with pre-existing conditions get access to insurance.
If PPACA advocates oppose H.R. 1549 and opt to fund lobbyists instead of sick people, voters might reasonably conclude that PPACA has always been more about rewarding political allies than solving the pre-existing condition problem.