Walker administration fights back against new Obamacare mandates
MADISON, Wis. – Gov. Scott Walker is pushing back against attempts by the federal government to pick health care plans for people on Obamacare exchanges.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently issued its “Notice to States Regarding Marketplace Auto Re-enrollment,” final guidance ordering state governments to begin automatic re-enrollment of consumers on the state exchanges.
The process is initiated when an enrollee’s health insurance provider leaves the exchange. CMS could ultimately be authorized to automatically reassign the enrollee to a different provider.
Insurers leaving the exchange has become a common occurrence due to the high cost of providing an Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, approved plan.
CMS guidance further states that if a state refuses to auto re-enroll consumers, “CMS will proceed to direct auto re-enrollment.”
The federal order is the result of a 150-page regulation approved by HHS in March. This regulation gives the agency the authority to re-enroll consumers with expiring health coverage.
In response to concerns about automatic re-enrollment that were raised when the regulation was originally approved, the CMS responded by saying that “(A)utomatic re-enrollment hierarchies must exist to help those who do not take advantage of the opportunity actively to choose coverage for the benefit year.”
In other words, the federal government is now forcing consumers to purchase a health insurance plan chosen by the federal government.
“When Obamacare passed, President Obama promised Americans they could keep their doctor and they could keep their health insurer. We know that hasn’t turned out to be true. Now the federal government wants to force consumers to enroll in a health insurance plan they didn’t choose,” Walker said in a statement.
The Republican governor also asked the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance,Ted Nickel, to respond to the CMS directive.
In his response, Nickel argued against the CMS order, saying it violates Wisconsin law.
“The auto enrollment options offered violate long standing State and Federal contract law principles,” Nickel said. “Wisconsin’s Insurance laws and regulations rest upon the principle that insurance is an area of free contractual activity.”
Nickel said Wisconsin law gives consumers “the right to enter into contracts of insurance free from external pressure.”
The CMS’ declaration that Wisconsin had to use automatic re-enrollment or have the federal exchange do it is legally inconsistent, Nickel said.
He pointed to the March regulation which states, “the enrollee may be enrolled through the exchange in a QHP (Qualified Health Plan) issued by a different issuer, to the extent permitted by applicable state law.”
Because automatic enrollment is not permitted by Wisconsin state law, Nickel said CMS cannot force it upon the state without violating its own regulation.
Wisconsin early on turned down Obamacare’s “free money” in expanded Medicaid to states. The federal funding, to be used to expand the poverty line and insure more Americans, comes with eventual unfunded mandates.
“In my state even without taking that expansion, we showed that we could get results. I’m proud to say the state of Wisconsin, for the first time in our history — first time in our history — everyone living in poverty is covered under Medicaid,” Walker said last year during his short-lived run for president.
In his letter, Nickel also asserts automatic re-enrollment violates federal law. TheGramm-Leach- Bliley Act “prohibits insurers and agents from releasing nonpublic personally identifiable information,” Nickel claims.
“CMS will have to release nonpublic personally identifiable information pertaining to each enrollee without their prior authorization,” the commissioner wrote.
As part of the process, CMS will transfer medical records and financial information from one insurance company to another. In Nickel’s opinion, doing so is prohibited without consumers’ consent.
The new order could also confuse and financially affect consumers, Nickel asserts.
“It is likely that most consumers will not have read notices sent to them explaining that the government enrolled them in a health insurance plan without their consent, prior to receiving a statement indicating they owe money for a product they did not choose to purchase,” the commissioner wrote.
The CMS auto re-enrollment plan “violates Wisconsin law, violates consumer privacy rights, interferes with market competition, disturbs contract law principles, and will result in significant consumer harm,” Nickel wrote.
“Apparently forcing Americans to buy health insurance through individual mandates wasn’t enough,” Walker said. “Now the federal government wants to pick the consumer’s plan for them.”