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Black Opening Statement: Markup of 3% Withholding Rule and Modifying the Income Definition for Certain Health Care Programs

October 13, 2011

Thank you Mr. Chairman.  I’d like to start out by saying my bill, H.R. 2576, is about fairness.  This summer, when the Associated Press first reported that President Obama’s health care law would allow middle class Americans to become eligible for Medicaid, I was shocked.   The Affordable Care Act’s new income formula that determines eligibility for government subsidies health insurance—the modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI, deviated from all other federal assistance programs, failing to include Social Security benefits as income.

Allow me to repeat that.  The Affordable Care Act’s income formula for Medicaid, CHIP and exchange subsidies deviated from the eligibility requirements for all other federal assistance programs.  Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and public housing, all include the entire Social Security benefit as income.  

Under the Democrat’s health care law, a married couple with an annual income of $64,000 could qualify to receive Medicaid benefits.  Let me put it in more stark terms: changing the income formula could result in individuals, whose incomes are up to 425% of the poverty level, receiving Medicaid.  This is unacceptable.  I very strongly believe that it is our duty to ensure the very scarce Medicaid resources are there for those in the most need.

And Mr. Chairman, I am not the only one who thinks so.  At a July 14th Budget Committee hearing, I asked Richard Foster, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Chief Actuary about the income eligibility issue, he said, “I don’t generally comment on the pros or cons of policy, but that just doesn’t make sense.”

Additionally, Richard Sorian, HHS’ assistant secretary for Public Affairs, conceded that “as a matter of law, some middle-income Americans may be receiving coverage through Medicaid, which is meant to serve only the neediest Americans.”

This legislation that we are marking up today has bipartisan support.  In the Senate, HELP Committee Ranking Member Mike Enzi has a companion bill, and Democrat Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska has similar legislation.  President Obama himself recognizes the problem, and his recent debt reduction plan, explicitly proposes that the entire amount of Social Security benefits be included in the definition of income.

This bipartisan solution would bring Medicaid back into line with other federal assistance programs and ensure the program is there for those in most need.  Furthermore, according to CBO/Joint Tax Committee estimates, this bill would save taxpayers approximately $13 billion over ten years.  Considering our $14 trillion in national debt, closing this loophole as soon as possible is good policy on a number of levels.