James Taranto | Senate Dems running away from Obamacare

“Powerful Democrats” subjected a top Obama administration health-care official “to withering criticism” last week, notes Walter Russell Mead. When Gary Cohen, head of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, appeared before the Senate Finance Committee, chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Maria Cantwell (Wash.) “tore into him.”

The hearing didn’t attract much journalistic attention; the only stories we could find about it were from a legislative trade publication (the Hill) and a health-policy one (Kaiser Health News). Here’s a summary of the senators’ complaints:

“Baucus questioned how well the online health insurance marketplaces would interact with what he called ‘archaic’ computer systems at Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service,” Kaiser reports.

Cantwell, the Hill reports, “criticized the administration for delaying implementation of the Basic Health Program–an option for states to provide cost-efficient health coverage outside of Medicaid and the law’s new insurance exchanges.” It was supposed to start next year but the administration is delaying it until 2015. Cantwell asked Cohen: “Are you artificially raising the cost to all taxpayers by trying to lure them onto the exchange?” (Cohen said no, the Basic Health Plan, in the Hill’s paraphrase, “simply had to take a backseat to other priorities.”)

“Wyden pressed Cohen to help find ways to resolve a glitch in the law which may result in the denial of federal assistance to millions of Americans of modest means who could be priced out of family health coverage at work,” according to Kaiser. At issue is an IRS ruling limiting federal subsidies for such plans. Said Wyden: “We’ve got millions of people–working-class, middle-class people–who are going to be pushed into a regulatory health coverage no man’s land.” So much for President Obama’s promise that if you like your plan, you can keep it.

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