Editorial: Another Obamacare delay
First, President Obama told Americans that if they liked their existing health insurance plans, they could keep them.
Then he acknowledged that he had, shall we say, over-promised.
After a public furor, the president extended the deadline for holding onto policies that did not comply with the Affordable Care Act. And then, last week, he announced another extension. In other words: Consumers can keep those substandard plans after all – at least for a while longer.
The change has much to do with election politics. The earlier extension let people keep existing plans through the end of 2014. That meant cancellation notices might have arrived in mailboxes just about the time of the fall campaigns. (Note to Democrats: Did you really not see this coming?) Under the new plan, such policies can be maintained into 2017.
Among the members of Congress who worked with the White House on what it’s calling a “transition policy”: New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter – Democrats who have been hammered by Republicans and conservative activist groups for supporting the federal health care law. (Separately last week, Kuster and Shea-Porter voted with House Republicans to delay until Jan. 1, 2015, the individual mandate under Obamacare. Shea-Porter noted that it would allow more time for insurers other than Anthem to join the state’s health care exchange, giving New Hampshire consumers more than one option for coverage.)
Is the president stretching the limits of his authority or doing what he can to ease the difficult move from one health-care system to another? Are his Democratic allies in Congress concerned about their constituents, their re-election prospects or both? Are his Republican critics actually unhappy that their constituents might get the reprieve they’ve been clamoring for?
Perhaps more to the point: Is this as big a deal as politicos are making it? The actual number of patients affected by the new deal could be limited. The new extension is optional, for states and insurers. And many companies are eager to get rid of the old plans in order to increase enrollment in the new health insurance exchanges.
It’s hard not to be cynical. And if Democrats running for re-election think that such a change will keep their opponents from tarring them with the botched and confusing rollout of Obamacare, they’re naive.
But for voters, there is a more important bigger picture. Obamacare isn’t going away – at least not anytime soon. And for all the confusion, it has also brought vast improvements. Once uninsured and under-insured patients now have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that a single accident or illness won’t throw them into bankruptcy. People with pre-existing conditions now have access to affordable coverage. Adult children aren’t kicked off their parents’ plan at age 21. Insurers can no longer cancel coverage when a policy holder becomes seriously ill, or when hospital bills exceed a set level. Preventive services, such as blood pressure screening, mammograms and colonoscopies, are covered with no co-pay for consumers.
When weighing the records of the Democrats up for re-election against their challengers, a good question to ask of the Republicans is this: Got a better plan in mind?