Conservative healthcare guru Yuval Levin called it “pounding on the panic button”:
In a CMS notice released around 9 p.m. without fanfare (not the way an organized government announces important policy changes if it wants them to be noticed) the administration said it would allow people whose 2013 insurance plans had been canceled to be exempted from the individual mandate penalty in 2014, and would also allow such people — regardless of their ages — to purchase catastrophic-coverage plans that are otherwise available only to people 30 and under in the individual market under Obamacare.
It is a stunning move, plainly driven by dread at the impending chaos and dislocation in the individual market in January.
This comes on the heels of evidence that “pajama boy” hasn’t been able to rope many friends into signing up for Obamacare. (“A muted turnout over the coming weekend would be bad news for health insurers, already grappling with low enrollments in the first months of the balky roll-out. Health insurers could post significant losses for individual plans sold on the exchanges in the first quarter of next year if the initial batch of enrollees lacks enough healthy people to offset the costs of covering sicker and older members.”)
President Obama did nothing at the end-of-year news conference to dispel the impression of chaos:
Well, there’s no doubt that — that when it — when it came to the health care rollout, even though I was meeting every other week or every three weeks with folks and emphasizing how important it was that consumers had a good experience, an easy experience in getting the information they need and knowing what the choices and options were for them to be able to get high-quality, affordable health care, the fact is it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable. And since I’m in charge, obviously, we screwed it up. . . .
And I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year and we’ve gotten through the initial surge of people who have been signing up.
But, you know, having said all that, the bottom line also is that we’ve got — several million people are going to have health care that works. And it’s not that I don’t engage in a lot of self-reflection here.
Perhaps less self-reflection and more constant and intense management of his signature legislation would help. Not convinced all will be running smoothly in 2014? You are in good company. The president continues to hit new lows in multiple polls, as does support for Obamacare.
What is eye-opening here is the degree to which Republican critics had it right. Millions of people did have coverage cancelled. Sticker shock and difficulty signing up young people do mean the problem is not merely a glitch in a Web site. Many will lose their doctor and/or hospital of choice. But the cure — amputation of part of the individual mandate — may make matters worse, James Capretta explained:
For starters, this exemption is going to strike many Americans as blatantly unfair and arbitrary. It comes at the 11th hour, after millions of people, including those with canceled plans, have already made their choices based on the rules they thought would be in effect. . . . This exemption also further undermines the Obamacare exchanges, which are already teetering. . . . In addition, what’s to stop those with canceled policies who fought their way through healthcare.gov from now changing their mind and dropping their plans in light of the administration’s announcement? These families would need only to file a form indicating that the premiums they were facing in the exchanges are unaffordable. As matters stand, the administration would have no basis for denying an exemption to such households. The upshot is that the administration has voluntarily opened another very big escape route out of Obamacare, and the most likely escapees will be young and healthy Americans who don’t want to pay high premiums for Obamacare’s expensive benefit plans.
In other words, conservatives were also correct that Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight. Right about now the American people might be receptive to a GOP alternative. In 2014 the House would be smart to pass one so that when Obamacare does come tumbling down, Americans will find safety in a cheaper, simpler health-care reform plan that works.