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Thune, HHS Nominee Burwell Battle At Confirmation Hearing

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South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune and Health and Human Services secretary nominee Sylvia Burwell had a testy exchange over Obamacare, in which she declined to promise she would share premium rates with Congress.

In Burwell’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Thune went after Obamacare’s  implementation, ranging from pushing several Obamacare deadlines until after the November elections, to unions’ exemptions from Obamacare taxes — a rule approved by the Office of Management and Budget, which Burwell currently heads.

“In the interest of transparency though…would you agree to submit, when you get them from the insurance company, the new filing rates that they file for next year? Because, you know, the enrollment date’s been delayed now until later this year, the date at which plans get approved has been delayed until right, I think, the day before the election, which is very convenient,” Thune said. “We know there’s going to be a real-world impacts on these things, and in the interest of transparency which you’ve talked a lot about, would submit to us those rates when you get them from the insurers?”

“With regard to the specifics of what HHS receives when and how, that’s something in my current role I’m not familiar with and would want to get to the department,” Burwell replied. “I will say is Senator, if I am confirmed, that’s something that I’ll want to understand and work with you on.”ers.

Most unions’ exemptions from Obamacare’s reinsurance tax on self-administered health insurance plans will mean that in order to raise the same amount of funds, those who didn’t win an exemption will have to pay more”. Burwell wouldn’t admit that union health care plans were exempted, but argued that they should not have been included in the tax in the first place.

“Health and Human Services officials said, ‘It is true that the fee will be higher for plans that do not have to pay the fee in 2015 because some plans are exempt,'”Thune said. “So in your view, is that an accurate statement, that others are going to have to pay a higher tax, the reinsurance tax, I should say, that’s paid by self-insured or self-administered plans, because groups like unions got carved out?”

Burwell replied that the changes benefiting unions fall into the category of “trying to improve and find better ways to implement the law.”

“The question’s really a very simple one…it’s simply a function of math. If there are groups exempted from that reinsurance tax, does that mean that those who are subject to the tax are going to have to pay higher taxes?” Thune pressed.

But Burwell wouldn’t concede that union exemptions from hefty Obamacare taxes were an issue, arguing that whether taxes are now higher depends on the “starting point.”

“This is again, this is mathematics,” Thune laughed. “Are people going to pay more? The answer is yes. And that’s what I’m saying when it comes to this issue of selective enforcement. And I don’t think that’s fair.”

“I don’t think that you can argue that based on the number of exemptions, the number of carve-outs, the number of delays that you’ve been issued already, that that’s the case. And this particular one was a rule that was issued by OMB under your direction.”

Burwell said that the unilateral changes to Obamacare were about trying to “implement in a better fashion.”

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