We’ve found yet another reason to mistrust a government bureaucracy that takes money citizens earned and treats citizens like serfs. The government class often act like the put upon factory foremen, whether it is making the sick wait in a line too many don’t survive trying see a physician at a Veterans Hospital or forcing the poor to jump through innumerable hoops to obtain Medicaid while hoping a loophole can be found to disqualify a person obviously in need. This last cultural trend became widespread in Indiana during Mitch Daniels’ time as governor. It was his administration’s weakness to fail to commit to excellence in doing those things his government was committed to do – including helping poor and disabled people. Those entitled, and we use the word without negative connotation, were poorly served.

Bureaucrats, while often fine people outside of their profession, work much the same in most places and in most of history – the old Soviet Union, the old Bureau of Motor Vehicles and of course the new Internal Revenue Service. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services provide more evidence that our government has a high degree of incompetence when it comes to important matters, which, looking on the bright side, might be the only real safeguard we have going for us in fighting government corruption. Many agencies just don’t do things well enough to pull off corruption without detection.

In this instance it was a money-saving mistake. Thousands of families with a disabled or deceased parent may have received a lower subsidy than they deserved to buy health coverage through the federal insurance marketplace as a result of a calculation error by the federal government.

In addition, the Associated Press reports, some who should have been eligible for Medicaid may have been turned away, leaving them on the hook for higher-priced private insurance coverage. The people responsible for this acknowledged glitch admit it but many details about how the agency will fix it remain unclear.

For months, according to the Associated Press, health insurance assisters who help enroll people in coverage on the federal marketplace, which is relied upon by residents of about three dozen states, noticed that healthcare.gov seemed to be making a mistake in how it calculated some families’ income to determine whether they qualified for subsidized marketplace coverage, or whether family members might be eligible for Medicaid.

Healthcare.gov seemed to be tripping up in cases where children were receiving Social Security income, generally because a parent has died or is disabled. That’s because eligibility for marketplace subsidies or Medicaid is based on a household’s modified adjusted gross income, known as MAGI: generally, adjusted gross income plus tax-exempt Social Security benefits, interest and foreign income.

The government was including that Social Security income when it computed a family’s MAGI figure. However, a child’s income should only be included if the child (or other tax dependent) was required to file his or her own tax return. A child who only receives Social Security benefits wouldn’t be required to file.

By adding the child’s Social Security income to the family’s income, the marketplace was inflating the family’s income. The result: Some people were wrongly turned down for Medicaid coverage and others received less in premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies than they were eligible for, reported the Associated Press.

We obviously need the government to create a safety net for some of our fellow citizens. But the next time you are tempted to lobby for some career politician to adopt a program or legislation to fix your life, please try to figure out some way to fix the problem yourself first. Government, both federally and locally, needs to be a last resort, not the first.

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