• Continuing attempts to block health care reform
    May 22,2013

    The New York Times said the following in an editorial:

    Congressional Republicans are trying to exploit two controversies bedeviling the Obama administration to undermine the health care reform law. They are using an uproar over misguided tactics by Internal Revenue Service employees to target conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status as an excuse to prohibit the agency from playing a pivotal role in carrying out the Affordable Care Act. And they want to use a controversy over efforts by the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, to encourage private donations to help enroll people in new health care exchanges as a cudgel to disrupt such efforts.

    Under the health reform law, the IRS is required to examine tax returns to determine who is eligible for a tax-credit subsidy to buy health insurance and who must pay a fine for failing to buy insurance. A Republican bill in the Senate would prohibit the IRS from enforcing the reform law (a related Republican bill in the House would do the same unless there are certifications made that the IRS will not target groups or individuals for political reasons).

    An investigation by the Treasury Department’s inspector general blamed midlevel workers, confusing rules and ineffective management, but it found no evidence that the staff had been under political pressure to focus on conservative groups. Still, Republicans have scheduled hearings to try to link the scandal to health care reform. Putting any limits on the IRS role in determining health subsidies for uninsured Americans would be disastrous.

    The controversy surrounding Sebelius involves her efforts to persuade nonprofit groups and business executives to donate money to or otherwise assist Enroll America, a nonprofit group that aims to help people enroll in new health care exchanges, pick suitable policies and apply for tax credits. She was driven to solicit help because Republicans have repeatedly and shamefully denied requests for money needed for this purpose.

    A spokesman for the department said Sebelius has made only two fundraising calls. She called the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block, neither of which is regulated by her department. She had engaged in “a dialogue” with a wide range of business and nonprofit groups, he said, on how they might help the uninsured.

    The problem is that Enroll America is led by former members of the Obama White House and Obama’s presidential campaigns and some of the people solicited by current or former administration officials felt as though they were being pressured into giving. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office into this matter, as congressional Republicans are seeking, could shed light on who said what to whom. Whatever the outcome of an inquiry, there are many patient groups working to help the uninsured, and donors should not be deterred from supporting those groups.

    Of course, many Republicans are not interested in making sure that millions get help. In fact, as Jeremy Peters reported in The Times last week, the House has voted 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act or deprive it of funds since January 2011. That is about 15 percent of the time they spent on House floor votes.

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