Investor’s Business Daily
Health Reform: How do you funnel billions of dollars to your union pals at a time when the government is running record deficits? Easy, you just tuck the money into ObamaCare.
According to a new Government Accountability Office report, the federal government has so far handed out $2.7 billion out of a $5 billion program squirreled away in ObamaCare.
The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program is advertized as a way to “stabilize the availability of employer-sponsored coverage for early retirees,” according to a Health and Human Services memo.
The argument goes that companies are increasingly dropping retiree health benefits, leaving those who retire before becoming eligible for Medicare in a jam — either they face exorbitant rates for insurance or expose themselves to potentially catastrophic health costs.
The little-noticed ObamaCare program was supposed to encourage companies to continue offering this benefit until 2014 — when ObamaCare fully kicks in and will solve everything — by reimbursing companies for a chunk of their retiree health costs.
But lift the hood a little and this program looks more like a slush fund for Friends of Democrats.
Almost as soon as the program was announced, thousands of well-connected unions and government agencies rushed in to apply for the free money. As a result, the agency running the program had to stop accepting applications in May or risk running out of funds.
And just look at who made the cut.
According to figures obtained by IBD, 10 of the top 12 recipients are either unions or public employee groups. In fact, the biggest single recipient was the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, which alone grabbed more than 8% of all the funds handed out so far. Other union beneficiaries include the United Food and Commercial Workers, the United Mine Workers and the Teamsters.
Meanwhile, almost half of the money doled out has gone to state and local governments, the GAO found.
Other big beneficiaries are giant companies such as AT&T and Verizon that, combined, have received more than a quarter-billion dollars under the program.
The problem is that these groups are the least likely to drop their retiree health benefits, calling the lie to the Obama administration’s whole “stabilizing” excuse.
In fact, over the past 10 years, the share of state and local governments offering retiree benefits increased — climbing to 83% from 80% in 2001, according to an annual Kaiser Family Foundation health benefits survey.
That’s at a time when private companies have been dropping retiree health plans to cut costs, with the share of large firms offering such benefits falling to 26% this year from 37% in 2001, the Kaiser survey shows.
So this ObamaCare money is really being used mainly to pay off unions and governments that would have provided these benefits anyway.
While the law forbids employers from using the funds for anything other than retiree health costs, money is fungible, freeing up union and government resources for other uses like, say, helping Obama get re-elected.
Even if the government weren’t running record deficits and drowning in debt, wasting billions of dollars like this would be unacceptable. But with the country on the fiscal edge, it’s an outrage. Is anyone on the debt-reduction “supercommittee” paying attention?