NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 5, 2009

A centerpiece of the debate over ObamaCare is government coercion and the right to choose a health-care plan.  So it's worth watching a lawsuit now making its way through the federal courts that seeks to let seniors keep their Social Security benefits even if they reject Medicare.  This could be a big deal, says the Wall Street Journal.

Last week, Washington D.C. District Judge Rosemary Collyer handed a victory to three plaintiffs seeking that right.  President Obama's Department of Health and Human Services had sought to dismiss the suit challenging so-called POMS rules that say seniors who withdraw from Medicare Part A must also surrender their Social Security benefits  (Part A covers hospital and outpatient services).  The judge ruled the plaintiffs have standing to contest their claim on the merits.

  • POMS were imposed in 1993 during the Clinton Administration and set forth rules that aren't in the statute or regulations governing Medicare.
  • The three plaintiffs -- Brian Hall, John Kraus and former U.S. House Majority Leader Richard Armey -- all had health-care plans they preferred to the coverage they were compelled to receive through Medicare.
  • In her ruling this week, the judge said that "neither the statute nor the regulation specifies that Plaintiffs must withdraw from Social Security and repay retirement benefits in order to withdraw from Medicare."
  • Article I of the Constitution gives Congress sole power to legislate -- so when agency rules conflict with federal statute, the statute takes precedence.

The Obama Administration argued that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs had not exhausted the available administrative remedies for challenging POMS.  Judge Collyer rejected that notion, noting that one plaintiff had sought an administrative hearing but "received no response from the SSA for approximately three years."  Exhaustion of remedies was therefore "futile."  A three-year wait is precisely the kind of bureaucratic hassle, or deliberate stonewalling, that government is famous for, says the Journal.

Keep in mind that the plaintiffs are merely asking for the freedom to spend their own money for their own health insurance.  With Medicare careening toward bankruptcy, letting seniors opt out could help save the taxpayers money, explains the Journal.  The plaintiffs argue that they have paid a lifetime of taxes into Social Security and shouldn't have those benefits denied merely because they are willing to pay for their own medical care.  Social Security and Medicare are separate programs, and both are financed by separate payroll contributions. 

This is a case where federal bureaucrats are using their power to force Medicare on seniors.  Let's hope the courts restore a genuine right to choose, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Opting Out of Medicare," Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2009.

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