Editorial: ‘Time out’ is the wrong fix for Obamacare
Disasters have huge, life-altering consequences. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy were disasters. The entombment of Pompeii in volcanic ash and the 1918 flu pandemic were disasters. The bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act is a gigantic embarrassment for the Obama administration, but it is not, despite the declarations by countless pundits and politicians, including New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a disaster.
Why? Because, as frustrating as the launch of the federal health care exchange has been for the millions of people trying to buy insurance on it, the problems with the government website, and the problems with Obamacare, can be fixed. As of yesterday afternoon, the exchange was capable of enrolling 17,000 people per hour, according to its administrator, and it should be fully operable by month’s end. So enough with the histrionics. Nobody died. Some money was wasted, but not a lot in government terms because Republicans blocked funding for the exchange, forcing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to build it on the cheap.
The botched rollout prompted both Shaheen and Sen. Kelly Ayotte to respond with calls for legislation. Shaheen wants the March 31 date by which Americans must purchase insurance or pay a penalty extended. That makes sense. Pushing the deadline ahead by a month or two, presuming the website is fully operable and easy to use by month’s end, seems fair.
Ayotte wants a “time-out” called on all the act’s provisions to give a bipartisan panel time to fix not just the website’s flaws but also problems with the law itself. Like most in her party, Ayotte supports a complete repeal of Obamacare. To her credit, she recognizes that isn’t going to happen unless the 2014 elections give Republicans an overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate. Her call for a time-out could thus be a stall to give her party time to find yet more ways to block the law’s implementation, but we don’t think so. We think she’s sincere, but we still think a time-out is a bad idea. The Affordable Care Act marks a major change in the way the United States approaches health care. No team of experts, wonks and augurers will be able to foresee all its problems or potential improvements. At this point, the plan needs to be test-driven and the problems fixed as they arise.
Yes, millions of people are losing their coverage as insurers cancel policies. President Obama’s promise that anyone who liked their health insurance could keep it was false. It does not apply to the 5 million people whose coverage fails to meet the minimal standards for policies set by the new law. Many of those people will have to buy more expensive insurance on the exchange or pay a penalty, and they are the ones who have been complaining the loudest to their representatives in Congress. But what are they really losing?
By some estimates, roughly half the people receiving cancellation notices will qualify for a subsidy if they buy coverage on the exchange. Most of the rest will pay more but also get far more than their current bare-bones policy offers. Some of the policies being canceled are health insurance in name only. If the policyholder develops a serious illness, such policies can be the equivalent of homeowner’s insurance that, when your house burns down, pays to replace your couch. And who pays the rest of the bill? Taxpayers and employers and employees who bite the bullet and buy good insurance.
It is not a disaster when people lose the ability to buy cheapo insurance that shifts the true burden of health care costs to everyone else and no reason to call “time out.”