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HHS execs doing good and living large, flying first class around the world

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Helping America’s poor, aged and sick is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ reason for being, but hundreds of its top officials are traveling in style and luxury at taxpayer expense.

Records obtained by the Washington Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act show that HHS executives spent $31 million taking 7,000 first class and business class flights between 2009 and 2013, including 253 trips for which a one-way ticket cost more than $15,000.

Half the records listed the price of a coach ticket for comparison. For that portion alone, the upgrade boosted the cost by almost $14 million, from $4.9 million to $18.5 million.

Federal employees are allowed to fly business or first class if the flight is longer than 14 hours, but only 1,400 of the 7,000 flights met that description
For the vast majority of the flights — 5,100 — the government executives upgraded because they claimed they had a medical disability that necessitated it.

Others cited “exceptional security circumstances,” that no coach tickets were available, that a non-federal source was footing the bill, that first or business class was “required because of agency mission.”

Then-Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took 14 first- or business-class trips totaling $56,000, including flights to and within India and from Paris to Vietnam.

The Food and Drug Administration took 2,000 upgraded trips costing $14 million and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took 3,000 trips costing $11 million. The National Institutes of Health took 1,300 such trips costing $3.5 million.

One flight for the Food and Drug Administration from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles , then to Australia and Germany, is listed as costing $26,469.23, with the upgrade because of a medical disability. A flight to Germany cost $23,000 for the same reason. Another FDA staffer spent an extra $10,000 of taxpayer money to fly first class from San Francisco to D.C.

A flight by FDA inspector David Heiar to India cost $30,000. Inspector Robert Horan flew to Hong Kong at a cost of $21,427 when coach would have cost $5,021. Another inspector flew to Australia for $12,344 when coach was $543.

But over 1,000 trips were for conferences, training sessions, speeches and meetings. An additional 1,000 records didn’t have a description of the purpose.

Hundreds of trips were also taken by top HHS officials in the Office of the Secretary.

And the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which manages Obamacare, took 50 upgraded flights, including a trip from Baltimore to a three-day conference in Phoenix where a first class ticket cost $3,000 each way. On another equally expensive trip to Baltimore, CMS’ Joseph Fine said first class travel was “required because of agency mission.”

CMS officials also flew business class from Charlotte, North Carolina to Charleston, South Carolina for $1,000 each way rather than drive three hours.

Other federal agencies spend heavily on first class travel as well, according to records reviewed by the Examiner, but none for which records were obtained appears to have come close to the 7,000 first class flights by HHS officials during the four-year period.

The FDA’s efforts to inspect the sources of American food and drugs, and the CDC’s mission to combat the spread of diseases, require more travel than most agencies.

But two departments that also have international missions appear to have managed to do more of their travel in coach. The Department of Defense had 784 first class flights during 2012 and 2013, but that number doesn’t account for trips made on military aircraft. The Department of Commerce had 635 during those two years.

HHS did not return a request for comment.

HHS director dishes in scathing resignation letter: ‘I’m offended as an American taxpayer’

A key official in the Department of Health and Human Services has stepped down, with a scathing letter of resignation that gives a sobering insider’s look at the department’s “secretive, autocratic and unaccountable” culture.
ORI-DIRECTOR-David-Wright-448x257
According to Science Insider, David Wright, director of the HHS Office or Research Integrity, is leaving his post after accusing the Kathleen Sebelius fiefdom of fostering an “intensely political” atmosphere, where a petty bureaucracy exists mainly to perpetuate itself, where decisions are made by “poorly informed” administrative supervisors and every employee is instructed constantly to “make the bosses look good.”

I knew coming into this job about the bureaucratic limitations of the federal government, but I had no idea how stifling it would be. What I was able to do in a day or two as an academic administrator takes weeks or months in the federal government …

The academic literature over the last twenty-five years on successful organizations highlights several characteristics: transparency, power-sharing or shared decision-making and accountability. If you invert these principles, you have an organization … which is secretive, autocratic and unaccountable …

This is not some functionary position. As director of the research integrity office, Wright was responsible for monitoring research funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Public Health Services – which dole out millions of taxpayer dollars. Instead, he wrote, his job mainly consisted of “navigating the remarkably dysfunctional HHS bureaucracy” and getting permission from “poorly informed” administrators to actually do it.

We spend exorbitant amounts of time in meetings and in generating repetitive and often meaningless data and reports to make our precinct of the bureaucracy look productive.

Anybody who works in a large organization (or just reads “Dilbert”) knows what that looks like. And there was a time, in the days before Obamacare, when the resignation letter of a frustrated bureaucrat wouldn’t have been worthy of mention. But in the Kafkaesque, socialist world Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and their Democrat henchmen have foisted on the United States, this actually matters. And, unlike “Dilbert,” it’s not a laughing matter.

Under the Obamacare administrative state, the HHS and Internal Revenue Service have assumed an unprecedented power over the lives of individual Americans. Wright’s letter lifts up the rock of the HHS to show that underneath it is a crawling pile of petty , maliciously inefficient world where appearances – or “optics” – mean much more than actual results.

“I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy — at least the part I’ve labored in — is so profoundly dysfunctional.”

In short, it’s about what you’d have expected in the Obama Era.

Nearly Two Thirds of 2013 Government Waste, Fraud Came from HHS

by EDWIN MORA
priniting-money-AP
The estimated amount of taxpayer-funded payments that the federal government doled out through fraud, waste, and errors slightly decreased in 2013 to $106 billion from $108 billion the previous year, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
On Dec. 31, FederalTimes.com reported the estimated government-wide improper payments dollar figure for fiscal 2013, citing Frank Benenati, an OMB spokesman as the source.

Benenati did not provide a breakdown of the 2013 payment errors by government program, saying that information would not be available for weeks, according to the FederalTimes.com article.

However, an analysis of government financial data by Breitbart News found that the Department of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) was the primary driving force behind all federal payments considered improper in fiscal 2013.

On Jan. 2, Breitbart News reported that HHS made an estimated $65.3 billion in payment errors that year.

The HHS improper payments amounted to 62 percent of all government-wide payment errors in 2013.

HHS was also the primary contributor to the estimated government-wide improper payments in 2012.

The $64.8 billion in mistakenly disbursed funds by HHS that year made up 60 percent of the total $108 billion in erroneous payments.

In an official blog post published in the afternoon on Friday, Dec.20, Beth Cobert, the OMB deputy director, touted that that the the improper payment rate had “declined to 3.53 percent in FY 2013 when factoring in Department of Defense commercial payments, compared to 3.74 percent in FY 2012 under the same accounting.”

Cobert did not report the 2013 improper payments in dollar figures that day. The $106 billion in fiscal 2013 improper payments has not been officially published by OMB.

Instead, Cobert focused on the rate, which refers to improper payments as a percentage of all government payments.

Cobert mentioned that “agencies recovered more than $22 billion in overpayments through payment recapture audits and other methods in FY 2013.”
She further added that in 2013, the Obama administration slashed improper payments for numerous major programs.

Namely, “Medicaid, Medicare Advantage (Part C), Unemployment Insurance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – Food Stamps), Pell Grants, and two Social Security programs – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance.”

Again, she did not mention any related dollar figures.
The erroneous payment rate has fallen by more than a third from 5.42 in FY 2009 to 3.53 in FY 2013, according to the figures in the OMB blog post.

It was not until recently that OMB included Pentagon payments to contractors in its improper payment estimates, reported FederatTimes.com.

Furthermore, the article noted that OMB Controller Danny Werfel has said that “only about one-third of improper payments are generally recoverable.”

Although OMB has not released a breakdown of 2013 improper payments by individual federal agencies and programs, Breitbart News has been running a series focusing on exposing that information.

So far, Breitbart News has reported 2013 improper payments for the following government entities: HHS ($65 billion); U.S Department of Agriculture ($6.2 billion); and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management ($353 million).

McDonald's Gets Taste of Obama Sausage-Making:

Caroline Baum
Oct 7, 2010 Bloomberg Opinion
“We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, March 9, 2010.

 

She wasn’t kidding. The public got to peek under the hood last week when the Wall Street Journal reported that McDonald’s Corp. wanted out: out of a requirement in the new health-care law that compels employers to spend 80 to 85 percent of premiums on medical benefits.

Who knew?

For McDonald’s mini-med health-care plan, a low-cost, limited plan covering about 30,000 hourly fast-food workers, the minimum medical loss ratio was economically unfeasible. The company asked for a waiver, according to memos provided to the Journal.

It turns out lots of other companies are seeking waivers for limited benefit plans — along with some states, like Maine, with a small number of insurers, according to Joseph Antos, a health-care scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Another group is lining up to apply for exclusions from the minimum annual cap on benefits that is part of the law. No wonder the Department of Health and Human Services had to put out a memo on waiver guidance. The subject line alone is intimidating:

“OCIIO Sub-Regulatory Guidance (OCIIO 2010-1): Process for Obtaining Waivers of the Annual Limit Requirements of PHS Act Section 2711”

Shell Game

The explanation of the purpose, background and process for filing a waiver isn’t much better. The gist of it is this:

— the Secretary of HHS is authorized to determine the minimum coverage limits;

— the Secretary of HHS is authorized to waive those limits if compliance with them “would result in a significant decrease in access to benefits or a significant increase in premiums,” according to the memo.

The state insurance commissioners can give the secretary advice, Antos says, but she doesn’t have to take it.

That pretty much describes the operating premise for the legislation that changes health care as we know it.

“The law they passed is a shell of a law,” says Michael Cannon, director of health-policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. “Most of the rules have yet to be written.”

Who knew?

“If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan.” — President Barack Obama, Aug. 11, 2009, Aug. 12, 2009, Aug. 13, 2009, etc., etc., etc.

That pledge “should have come with a disclaimer: Offer not valid for low-income workers,” Cannon writes in a recent blog post.

The offer is also subject to the discretion of the HHS secretary.

Discretion may be the better part of valor, but it’s not something businesses can rely on for planning purposes. Corporations are already hunkered down because of (take your pick) weak demand, hurt feelings as a result of presidential persecution, or uncertainty over future health-care costs and tax rates. It won’t help business confidence to learn the HHS secretary can make and break rules on a case-by-case basis.

“The secretary can decide what you have to purchase, but if you are in a presidential swing state, the secretary has the authority to undo everything she just did,” Cannon says.

Cabinet secretaries are political appointees. Policy has become increasingly politicized. The role of the executive branch is not to make or interpret laws.

“I will not sign health-insurance reform that adds even one dime to our deficit over the next decade.” — President Obama

Who knew that adding 30 million people to the health-care rolls would bend the cost curve — in the wrong direction?

Anyone with a basic knowledge of economics. The law of supply and demand teaches us that when consumers want to buy more (health care, for example) at any given price than they did before, the demand curve shifts out, to the right, representing a higher equilibrium price and higher quantity demanded.

At the same time, providers are responding to the government’s increased intrusion by running the other way, refusing to accept new Medicare patients as the government cuts reimbursements.

Everywhere you turn there’s a story about insurance premiums rising and employers shifting more of the cost onto employees. A new study by human-resources consultants Hewitt Associates LLC projects an average premium increase of 8.8 percent in 2011, the biggest in five years.

Government of Laws

Costs associated with ObamaCare are just one of the reasons, according to Hewitt. (The others are rising medical claims costs and an aging population.) And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, confronted with a big unknown, companies hope for the best outcome and price for the worst.

“…to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.”

— John Adams, Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin, Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1780

The McDonald’s kerfuffle shined a light on the health-care legislation. With many of the rules to be written and many of the provisions to be phased in between now and 2014, the public got to see how the sausage was made and who gets to make it.

And once again, the Obama administration found itself on the defensive, with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius claiming the Journal story about McDonald’s dropping its mini-med coverage was “flat out wrong.”

“We can’t waive a regulation that doesn’t even exist,” Sebelius said.

Who knew? Well, pretty much anybody who was paying attention.

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