Grant Bosse: Hassan administration is breaking the law to push Obamacare
The gang that brought you the JUA raid is back with another wacky plan to get around the inconvenience of state law. At least this time, they’re just ignoring the Legislature instead of stealing someone else’s money.
Gov. Maggie Hassan’s administration desperately wants to use $5.4 million from the federal government for outreach and education efforts for the new health-care exchanges that are supposed to go online on Oct. 1. That means a bunch of TV, radio and newspaper ads touting the wonders of the new health-care law, and how people can sign up insurance. Such propaganda is hardly unprecedented, but there is no legal justification for New Hampshire officials to spend a dime doing so.
In June 2012, then-Gov. John Lynch signed into a law HB 1297, which amended a statewide prohibition of setting up a state-based exchange under Obamacare. Lynch, who very much wanted the state to run the Exchange, supported the law because it clarified that bureaucrats in the Health and Human Services and Insurance Departments could communicate with federal officials as Washington set up the exchange, and that New Hampshire was not ceding its authority to regulate insurance offered through it.
The law reads “No New Hampshire state agency, department, or political subdivision shall plan, create, participate in or enable a state-based exchange for health insurance under the Act, or contract with any private entity to do so.”
But the plain language of state law doesn’t mean much to the Hassan administration. When the Legislature made it clear that accepting $5.4 million to tout the Obamacare exchange would constitute participation in the exchange, New
Hampshire Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny started looking for ways to get his hands on the money any way he could.
In 2009, it was Sevigny who spearheaded Lynch’s attempt to confiscate $110 million in “surplus” money from the Joint Underwriting Association, a state-created board that provides malpractice insurance to state doctors and hospitals. When the state Supreme Court ruled the raid unconstitutional, Sevigny tried to evade the ruling by pushing sweeping changes to the JUA through legislative rules. The Legislature shot down the second JUA raid in 2010.
Now Sevigny is back with another get-rich-quick scheme to justify accepting the illegal federal Obamacare grant. Instead of the Insurance Department accepting the money, the legislatively created New Hampshire Health Plan will apply for the grant.
The New Hampshire Health Plan was set up by the Legislature to provide to health insurance to the “high-risk pool” of residents who can’t or won’t buy health insurance in the private market. This coverage sunsets at the end of the year, just as the new exchanges are supposed to start offering coverage of their own. While Sevigny always insisted that the JUA was a government agency whose funds could be transferred to other parts of the state budget at will, he now claims that NHHP is only a “quasi-governmental” organization, and not subject to the ban on planning or participating in the exchange.
But the New Hampshire Health Plan has neither the authority nor the capacity to carry out the grant that it’s seeking. It exists solely to address the high-risk pool, and not the broader population eligible for the exchange. The Legislature recently gave the New Hampshire Health Plan a full year after its sunset date for the “winding down and cessation” of the high-risk pool, but in no way authorized the wildly divergent entry into Obamacare exchange education efforts. Lacking any capacity to actually do anything with the $5.4 million it seeks, the New Hampshire Health Plan recently told a state advisory committee that it would actually contract out the work.
Sevigny is using the New Hampshire Health Plan as a proxy to funnel the federal money to third-party groups like NH Voices for Health because he’s barred by law from doing it himself.
In fact, Obamacare works largely as a funnel for siphoning federal money to political allies. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is currently soliciting nonprofits and social service agencies as Certified Application Counselor Organizations, and will soon be issuing grants to hire thousands of navigators to implement the law. This will create a permanent cadre paid by taxpayers but free from federal ethics and campaign finance restrictions. This week, the feds slashed the amount of training that these navigators will have before unleashed on the public with orders to make Obamacare work.
Hassan, who pushed hard for the illegal JUA raid when she was a state senator, is letting Sevigny take the heat for this latest dodge. House and Senate Republicans are demanding to know why he’s ignoring state statute. They should ask the governor why she’s content with the outlaw gang running the state Insurance Department.
(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy. He is a senior fellow at the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.)