November 29, 2013

We’re going to hit the next Affordable Care Act deadline soon, since the administration promised that by the end of November Healthcare.gov would work for most people. There’s going to be a lot of hype. Almost none of it matters.

What does matter, as Ezra Klein details in a post about the deadline, is the effects that continued problems will pose for individuals who are derailed by them. Most serious, of these, would be those who believe that they’ve successfully enrolled, only to find either that their subsidies have been miscalculated or that the insurance company they signed up for didn’t get notified. Next most serious would be those who have lost their old insurance and are unable to get through to sign up for a new plan. To the extent that any of that happens (and it seems likely there will be at least some), then Obamacare will have caused real problems for real people. That’s a big deal — for those involved.

That’s the downside. There’s also an upside: all the people who successfully added new insurance, or those who will pay less.

But beyond that, there’s little policy or other political outcomes at stake in this deadline.

On policy: I’ll stick with what I said some time ago: Web site problems aren’t going to destroy the ACA. The first year could be worse, but by fall it’s extremely likely that whatever is not fixed by now will be fixed for the second open season, and there are enough built-in fail-safes that a bad first year won’t destroy the exchanges.

When it comes to the politics of it…again, there’s little that could happen within the range of likely outcomes that would significantly change the public impression that the rollout was a mess — or the reality that a lot of people will have health insurance on January 1 who won’t be happy if its taken away.

Moreover: given that the old status quo has been swept away, which makes flat-out repeal no longer practical, and that ACA opponents have no alternative of their own, the law for now has quite a bit of time to find its footing.

As Brian Beutler reminds us, we’re not going to find out much on December 1 anyway. Which is fine; as much as what’s happening matters to the individuals affected, there’s just not very much to learn abut the future of the ACA from whatever is happening this week.