Friday, March 25, 2011

POMS and ObamaCare© [UPDATED]

All those naysayers who pooh-pooh the idea that ObamaCare© will deprive Americans of the basic freedom to choose appropriate health care certainly got an eye-opener this week:

"Judge Rosemary Collyer has ruled that Americans have a legal obligation to accept subpar government health benefits."

But surely, Henry, you must be quoting selectively; there's no way a Federal Judge can force people into such a system.

Actually, I'm being kind, and to understand why, it's necessary to rewind a bit, back to October of 2009:

"Under existing rules, if one elects not to be covered by Medicare, one is also ineligible for Social Security benefits ... The judge went further than just denying the feds' request, though: she explains that these POM's are not supported by the statute. In short, they're making their own law (which is a no-no)."

[ed: POMS are Program Operations Manuals used by the Social Security Administration]

In effect, Judge Collyer said that the POM's were clearly extralegal, and allowed the plaintiffs to proceed against the Feds.

But that was then, and this is now:

"The Medicare Act is very clear that persons entitled to Social Security retirement benefits, i.e., of an age and work history and application therefore, are immediately and automatically entitled to Medicare Part A benefits upon their 65th birthdays"

She goes on to note that the plaintiffs are "trapped in a government program intended for their benefit... and wish to escape."

Seems reasonable enough.

But then, she turns this completely on its ear by ruling that there's "no loophole or requirement that the secretary provide such a pathway."

So what caused this 180-degree shift into bizarro-world?

We went back to the source, Kent Masterson Brown, the plaintiffs' attorney who's been leading the charge. Mr Brown (whom we'd interviewed several times a few years back), graciously shared his time and observations with us, Since his appeal is currently pending, he was constrained in what he could tell us, but he was equally stunned that Judge Collyer could do such an about-face with no new facts presented.

In effect, he told us, her 2009 ruling that the POM's were out of bounds has become a confirmation that the agencies can, in fact, deny his clients basic freedom of choice. Somehow, as he understands the ruling, the idea that one is entitled to a benefit now means one must accept it, regardless of one's wishes.

And he draws a straight line directly to ObamaCare©: the same (kinds of) folks who wrote the POM's will be writing these new reg's. Why would anyone believe these will be any less onerous?

The case now heads to the Appeals Court, where, in effect, Judge Collyer will be arguing with herself. Should be interesting, to say the least.

[A Special InsureBlog Thank You to Mr Brown for his time and expertise]

UPDATE: Mr Brown has written a piece for today's Washington Post, in which he warns that the decision "would allow the "health reform" law to become even more Orwellian than it already is, without any action from Congress ... More immediately, whether they want it or not, seniors will now be forced into Medicare, a program that even Judge Collyer asserts "may bankrupt all of us."

Definitely read it all.
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