Only a few months ago, the White House and Democrats scoffed when Republicans suggested that the implementation of ObamaCare be postponed in order for the government to understand exactly what it was foisting upon the country. Nothing could stop the administration’s determination to roll out the president’s signature health-care legislation on time. All liberals and some conservatives as well were convinced that once it began, the debate about its wisdom would cease as the extension of benefits would make it as universally popular as Social Security and Medicare. But though the White House is still insisting that all will come right in the end, they may be wishing they had taken the GOP’s offer. In the latest example of the problems the administration has encountered in trying to make ObamaCare work, it announced late yesterday that yet another aspect of the law will be delayed. As the New York Times reports:
Millions of people facing the cancellation of health insurance policies will be allowed to buy catastrophic coverage and will be exempt from penalties if they go without insurance next year, the White House said Thursday night.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed the sudden policy shift in a letter to Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and five other senators. It was another effort by President Obama to cushion the impact of the health care law and minimize political damage to himself and Democrats in Congress who adopted the law in 2010 over solid Republican opposition.
The decision is an attempt to shield Democrats from voter outrage about the impact of the law until after the 2014 midterm elections. But while beleaguered Democrats are happy of any reprieve, however belated, the decision comes too late to avoid adding to the general public impression of the rollout as a disaster that doesn’t seem to get better despite repeated White House promises that the worst is behind them. Taken as a whole, the list of exemptions and delays in the implementation of the misnamed Affordable Care Act is leaving the country asking what exactly were all the geniuses in the West Wing and the Department of Health and Human Services doing during the two years between the bill’s passage and the start of this fiasco?
The list of ObamaCare delays is impressive. As the Times noted in the conclusion of their article about the latest one:
The move Thursday followed delays in many other parts of the health care law.
On July 2, the White House abruptly announced a one-year delay, until 2015, in a provision that requires larger employers to offer coverage to their workers or pay penalties.
On Nov. 27, it deferred a major element of the law that would allow small businesses to buy insurance online for their employees through the federal exchange.
Earlier, in April, the administration said that the federal exchange would not offer employees of a small business the opportunity to choose from multiple health plans in 2014.
And in October 2011, the administration scrapped a long-term care insurance program created by the new law, saying it was too costly and would not work.
Each of these moves, if taken in isolation, might be defended as the exception to the rule of a smooth rollout. But taken together, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that what we are witnessing is the slow-motion unraveling of a hubristic and complicated big government plan whose consequences weren’t fully thought out by an administration whose sole focus was putting it in place before it could be stopped by Republicans.
But the problem here is more than just a matter of perceptions, though the decision not to mention the move during a press briefing yesterday and then to reveal it later in what was obviously an end-of-week news dump shows the administration knows all too well how badly they are losing the battle to brand their plan as anything but a costly failure. By waiting until only days before the deadline for consumers to purchase insurance without facing a fine, the government burned those who previously purchased more costly and often unwanted plans. It also is a slap at insurance companies that were forced to cancel the plans that millions of Americans preferred as a result of the ObamaCare fiat.
While the belated move will help some, it also makes it a given that, as Republicans have predicted for months, the number of Americans who lost their coverage as a result of ObamaCare will far exceed the number of those who signed up for the ACA via the government or the state exchanges. It now is highly unlikely that there will be anything like the number of people in the program that will be needed to make the plan work. Without vast numbers of younger, healthy people or former individual insurance consumers in the exchanges, there won’t be enough in it to pay for the elderly, poor, or those with pre-existing conditions that the plan was designed to help. That means that those who have been sucked into it will likely face far higher costs than the already expensive plans and exorbitant deductibles than even the government was planning to provide:
Insurers, already struggling with problems caused by the chaotic debut of the federal insurance exchange in October, expressed surprise and dismay.
“This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers,” said Karen M. Ignagni, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.
Another insurance executive said that insurers had not expected a significant number of people over 30 to enroll in catastrophic plans, so their costs were not factored into the premiums.
Moreover, the executive said, the exemptions undermine the requirement for people to have coverage. That requirement, often called an individual mandate, is needed to guarantee that insurers attract young healthy people to help offset the costs of covering older Americans who require more medical care, insurers say.
Democrats continue to insist that once the bumps are smoothed out opposition will cease. But as we continue to learn, the problem with ObamaCare isn’t just a website that crashes or the lies that the president and his supporters were forced to tell Americans about the impact of the plan before it was passed. It’s that the scheme itself, which imposes government dictates on the private sector, simply wasn’t properly thought out before it was drafted or implemented. Had the president been honest and told the American people that it was a redistributionist plan that would hurt as many, if not more citizens than it helped, it would never have passed even on a straight party line vote.
More such announcements as the one handed down yesterday won’t convince the public that ObamaCare wasn’t a liberal nightmare that should never have been tried. Republicans will be asked, as they should, how they can deal with the problem of the uninsured or those with pre-existing conditions. But Democrats up for reelection anywhere but in the most blue of districts and states will continue to distance themselves from a bill that is now synonymous with incompetence. As the number of ObamaCare losers continues to grow while the ranks of those who have joined it continue to fall below expectations, the prospect of having to face the voters next year must chill the president’s party.