Much of the opposition to “Obamacare” has centered around its supposedly unprecedented requirement that everyone must have a health insurance policy in place. But as a group of retired federal employees will tell you, this is hardly the only federal health program that lacks an opt-out provision. (Consumer complaints about Social Security).
A federal judge has ruled that retirees cannot opt out of Medicare Part A, the part that covers hospital stays, unless they are willing to forfeit their Social Security checks and repay all of the benefits they have already received.
Though sounding sympathetic, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia declared her hands were tied.
“Medicare costs are skyrocketing and may bankrupt us all; nonetheless, participation in Medicare Part A (for hospital insurance) is statutorily mandated for retirees who are 65 years old or older and are receiving Social Security Retirement (so-called ‘old age’) benefits. Whether Congress intended this result in 1965 or whether it is good fiscal and public policy in 2011 cannot gainsay the language of the statute and the regulations,” Judge Collyer wrote.
The plaintiffs – Brian Hall, John Kraus, and Richard Armey – are retired federal employees who had previously been enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefit (FEHB) program and wanted to “disenroll” from Medicare without surrendering their Social Security benefits.
Too bad, said Judge Collyer, noting that the Supreme Court had previously recognized the “mandatory institutional health benefits (such as coverage for hospital expenses) provided by Part A.” in a 1986 decision.
“The parties use a lot of ink disputing whether Plaintiffs’ desire to avoid Medicare Part A is sensible. This is not an issue the Court needs to address,” she wrote. This dispute constitutes a case or controversy without regard to why Plaintiffs prefer other insurance coverage. ”
Under the law and Social Security regulations, the only way for an individual to avoid being “entitled” to Medicare Part A is to either not register for Social Security or submit a written request withdrawing from Social Security and returning all benefits previously paid, Judge Collyer held.
In conclusion, said the judge, “Plaintiffs are trapped in a government program intended for their benefit. They disagree and wish to escape. The Court can find no loophole or requirement that the [Health and Human Services] Secretary provide such a pathway.”
It could not be immediately determined whether the Richard Armey who was one of the three plaintiffs is “the” Richard Armey, the Texas Republican who served in Congress from 1985 to 2003 and was the House Majority Leader from 1995 to 2003.