We’ll discover in the coming days whether the Senate compromise on subsidy payments to health insurers survives. But the details are instructive.
To buy off Republicans, the deal gives states more flexibility to seek federal waivers allowing them to opt out of certain Obamacare requirements. Of course, the GOP has long pledged to abolish the Affordable Care Act, so propping up the law with handouts to Big Insurance can’t be considered much of a victory. Expect some resistance, particularly in the House.
Democrats, on the other hand, get billions in taxpayer subsidies intended to entice low-income Americans to buy health care on the exchanges. But that’s not all. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that they “also successfully negotiated $106 million in funding for outreach,” including millions for “navigators,” people paid to sign up others for Obamacare.
In reality, the navigator scheme is a make-work government jobs program rife with corruption and highly susceptible to scam artists. It’s a slush fund for progressive constituent groups. As the Journal pointed out last month, “one grantee took in $200,000 to enroll a grand total of one person. The top 10 most expensive navigators collected $2.77 million to sign up 314 people.”
At its peak, the program featured 50,000 navigators pulling in as much as $40 an hour. National Review reported in 2013 that much of the money went to favored liberal special-interest “community” organizations. Yet the returns were paltry. In 2016, one Health and Human Services official told The New York Times, navigators enrolled only about 0.7 percent of all those who signed up for Obamacare.
The Trump administration in July announced funding reductions for such “outreach” and sought to tie pay to performance. The Senate compromise undermines that effort, restoring money the president had vowed to cut.
It speaks volumes about their attitude toward the American taxpayer and their devotion to patronage politics that congressional Democrats would place such a high priority on preserving an unaccountable, ineffective and wasteful program.