December 20, 2013

The White House is bending, extending, changing and reinterpreting the Obamacare rules on the fly. Last night, the administration announced “at least the 14th unilateral change to Obamacare that’s been made without consulting Congress.” There is no reason to believe that more changes aren’t coming.  This latest change states that Americans who have had the health-care plans they liked and wanted to keep canceled can either buy “bare-bones” coverage (of course no one knows what that means) or no coverage at all for next year.  This de facto exemption for what could be millions of Americans who received cancellation notices brings new worries and immense confusion for insurers and others in the health-care industry.

Booklets outlining health insurance options for Californians. (Robyn Beck/Getty Images)
Booklets outlining health insurance options for Californians. (Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

It doesn’t look like people are signing up for Obamacare in sufficient enough numbers to make the law work.  The White House knows this, and all these sudden rule changes suggest officials are in a panic. The Democrats never expected to be in this position. Obamacare just isn’t happening.

It is possible that Obamacare will shatter into a cluster of volunteer products, with the law devolving into yet another entitlement program that can’t pay its own way. Ultimately, what may keep some semblance of Obamacare together is the enforcement actions of the IRS, not changes made by a flexible, patient White House. There will come a time when the message from the Democrats will be, “We tried to be nice and we were patient, but now you must face the consequences.”  The stick will yield more results than the carrot. The politics of this scenario must terrify the Democrats. Will they pressure the president to cave on the penalties before the midterm elections?

I’ve always thought that the prospect of punishment as a motivator to sign up for Obamacare was underreported. It is a somewhat novel idea for America.  Most penalties and fines arise after a bad act is committed; the perpetrator gets caught and justice is done. But in the case of Obamacare, you must affirmatively do what is demanded. If you don’t comply, the authorities will find you and you will be punished.

Under the Obamacare mandate, if you don’t buy the Democrats’ product, you will be forced to hand over some of the money you earned and had planned on keeping. If there is a chance to repeal and replace Obamacare, it is the penalty implementation that may be the last straw. Will Democrats on the ballot in 2014 stand idly by as millions of Americans are determined to be guilty and the president gives the IRS the nod to unleash their power to force these Americans into submission? I doubt it.

 

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Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.