Photo by Bulletin graphics
Common message, www.healthcare.gov
A “government shut down” is a hardball negotiating tactic that is only used in the deepest disagreements about federal policy. A government shutdown has to begin in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has the responsibility to appropriate money for the government, according to the Constitution.
House members have to be elected every two years, so the House is considered to be the lawmaking body that is the nearest to people and their preferences. It is often called the "People's House."
The founding fathers gave the House the sole authority to appropriate money for government programs.
In earlier days, House majority leader Tip O’Neill engineered 8 shut downs against President Ronald Reagan during federal budget disputes, but each of those shutdowns only lasted 1-3 days, according to the Washington Post.
The worst government shutdown in history occurred later, during the 1995 Christmas holidays, when the government closed for 21 days.
By that time, money was running out for lots of basic and some essential services. House Leader Newt Gingrich and Senate leader Bob Dole finally made a deal with President Bill Clinton on the budget, and government offices reopened.
Insurance rate scare
As the Oct. 1 deadline for applying for Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) neared, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance company notified policy holders that their rates were going to go up dramatically.
The notices alarmed people, who shared them with friends, adding to wide-spread criticism of the health care reform.
The BCBS notices didn’t mention that Obamacare will eventually place a cap on the amount of money a person would have to spend for medical care.
In reality, Obamacare will be a good deal for people who are uninsured or have low incomes, insurance agent Rebecca Nordquist said at a meeting in North Platte at the end of the first day of sign-up.
The government will subsidize the cost of premiums for single people who make as much as $45,960 (four times the national poverty rate.)
Nordquist said Obamacare won’t be such a good deal for people who earn moderate to high incomes.
They will pay more, she said.
Nordquist and her colleague Matt Ryan conducted several meetings to talk to people about how the system will work, and what might not work so well. They plan more meetings at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Oct. 22 in room 109 of the north campus at North Platte Community College.
“It’s really important to get an agent,” Nordquist told the people who attended. “It doesn’t cost anything.”
After the meeting, Nordquist also told the Bulletin that one good thing that will happen is health insurance companies can only spend 20 percent of the money they take in from insurance premiums on administrative costs.
That will be a welcome change. She said insurance companies have been spending more than 20 percent on internal costs, including top salaries and company investments, while raising premiums and covering fewer medical procedures.
She said the IRS will enforce the 20 percent limit. And, the IRS is charged with enforcing many of the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Another IRS task is to make sure that people are enrolled and do not skim the system by entering phony income amounts.
Each year, the estimated yearly income that people state in their application will be double checked against the amount of each individual’s income tax return, she said.
Hardly anyone has been able to get on the government website to learn their options, obligations or to enroll in the ACA program.
Long waits and computer freeze-ups have been common beneath the beautiful, spacious skies and along the amber waves of grain.
It is a rough beginning for a program that would bring sweeping changes, for better or worse, in the marriage of people's health care and their government.
An estimated 45 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance and will need to enroll.
The website, healthcare.gov, has to serve people in 34 of 50 states, because those states, including Nebraska, decided not to set up their own website, largely because their elected leaders didn’t want Obamacare in the first place.
Around 2.8 million people headed for the federal site within the first 12 hours to see what they could learn about the new law, said Marilyn Tavenner, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, speaking to USA Today newspaper.
But more than a week later, the website was still hardly functioning.
This report was first published in the Bulletin’s Oct.2 print edition.