08.14.2012 0

Rhode Island Set to Convert Health Care Exchange into “Dependency Portal”

Lincoln ChafeeBy Kevin Mooney — Just a few hours after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling upholding Obamacare, top officials in Rhode Island made some revealing comments about how they intend to use their health benefit exchange system.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Steven Costantino, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, and Health Benefit Exchange Director Christine Ferguson, the exchange director, told reporters that over time health benefits could be interlinked with a range of social welfare benefits.

The Rhode Center for Freedom and Prosperity has published audio that includes the key statements from the press conference. While Obama Administration is working at the federal level to unravel the work requirements included as part of the 1996 welfare reform law, it’s clear that Rhode Island officials are leading the charge at the state level to expand government dependency.

As Secretary Constantino explained, once a “unified infrastructure” is in place to offer “one-stop shopping” Rhode Island residents could use the exchange to access not just health benefits but also food stamps and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government, called the move a “gross expansion of the welfare state at a time when public resources are dwindling.”

The Rhode Island strategy is built around the concept of “express lane eligibility,” according to a research paper from the Center. The idea here is to allow for data to be drawn from a variety of means-tested programs and government databases in an effort to speed up eligibility for both Medicaid the Children’ Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly referred to as Obamacare, there is a “particular emphasis on simplifying enrollment in Medicaid, CHIP, and premium tax credits, in part, by building on principles of Express Lane Eligibility: minimizing the amount of information a consumer must provide to apply for coverage and maximizing states’ ability to obtain information from existing state and federal databases,” a policy brief from Families USA explains. “The lessons learned from implementing Express Lane Eligibility for children will also have direct relevance to the enrollment policies that are adopted as part of health reform implementation.”

Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO, suspects that right from the beginning government officials intended to convert the health care exchanges into “dependency portals.”

“This is an extreme case of misguided public policy,” he said. “The expansion of government and special interest control over our personal healthcare decisions, along with the culture of dependency being freely advocated by this administration, should be viewed as an assault on our deeply held American value of self-reliance.”

He added:

“Imagine turning to the RI health benefits portal because your employer cancelled your insurance and finding yourself on a government-created expressway to a life of dependency. Wouldn’t we all be better off, instead, if the state encouraged residents to become independent, productive members of society?”

Gov. Lincoln Chafee created the health benefit exchange with an executive order that some lawmakers view as a violation of the separation of powers. He also proceeding with the Medicaid expansion under the PPACA, which taxpayers will be forced to cover once the federal subsidy ends.

“Nobody should be surprised that Chafee, a former Republican, is behind this welfare expansion. He never shared his party’s views on fiscal responsibility while he was in Washington, D.C.,” ALG’s Wilson said.

“The real danger of the dependency portal is that it sets up a chute so that previously self-reliant Rhode Islanders will increasingly fall into an entitlement existence,” Justin Katz, the lead researcher with Center noted.  “Why else would the exchanges offer health care subsidies to a family of four with income of $92,200?”

Kevin Mooney is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinMooneyDC.

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