There's a rule in Obamacare that limits out-of-pocket costs -- including deductibles and co-payments -- to $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families. Sounds simple enough.
But when the Obama administration went to implement the rule, it found it wasn't going to be that easy. Some insurers and employers lack the capacity to keep track of an individual's out-of-pocket health costs. They often use different companies to administer medical benefits and pharmaceutical benefits -- and those companies' computer systems don't speak to each other. Implementing the rule would require upgrading those systems -- and that takes time.
So as the eagle-eyed Robert Pear noticed, the Obama administration quietly delayed the rule for certain insurers and employers until 2015 (official details here). The delay was actually announced in February, but as Pear writes, it was "in a maze of legal and bureaucratic language that went largely unnoticed."
That means it's time, once again, to play Obamacare Rashomon! Does this mean:
1) "The Obamacare 'train wreck' continues," with another "vivid demonstration of governing incompetence."
2) The Obama administration is correctly showing flexibility in the rollout of a vast and complex law. No legislation fully survives first contact with reality, and they're doing the right thing by listening to employers and insurers who say this small provision would be too burdensome to implement in 2014.
3) The Obama administration is favoring the interests of politically powerful employers and insurers over the interests of consumers and, in particular, the chronically ill, who would be likeliest to spend past these out-of-pocket limits.
4) Almost nothing. This is a small provision that effects relatively few people that's only being delayed in certain cases -- and even then, it's only being delayed for a single year. Chill out.
My sympathies, as you might expect, lie with some mixture of 2, 3, and 4. What would make Obamacare into a train wreck is if the Obama administration insisted on implementing technically difficult provisions that they don't have the capacity to implement. These kinds of delays cut the number of possible problems the law will face in its first year.
But that's not to say these delays are good news. What we don't know is what happens in 2015. Do these provisions get delayed again? Changed by Congress? Or with the law up-and-running, does the Obama administration begin focusing on the nettlesome provisions they put on the shelf for 2014? Unlike the employer mandate, which I'd prefer to see repealed or completely overhauled, the out-of-pocket limits are important for protecting people who actually get sick -- which is, in the end, the point of this whole thing.