December 13 2013

Another Day, Another Delay

Patrice J. Lee

What happens when a private company misses a key deadline for its client? They usually get the boot. When the federal government misses a deadline, they pretend like it’s no big deal. And in the case of the ObamaCare rollout, they put the pressure on everyone else.

With enrollment numbers far off from end of year targets and Americans still struggling with the healthcare.gov website, the Administration is looking to buy time for enrollees. It is pushing healthcare insurers to grant Americans extra time to purchase and gain coverage by January 1.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The government on Thursday announced steps to stave off unpleasant surprises for Americans when the health-overhaul law fully kicks in Jan. 1, including measures to ensure continuous care for people with serious medical conditions.

The moves include a one-month extension of a federal insurance program for certain chronically ill people. The Obama administration also asked insurers to take a flexible approach about their rules when patients refill prescriptions or see their existing doctor in the early days of the new year in case new health plans haven't kicked in.

While consumers face a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for coverage that will start Jan. 1, the administration said it was encouraging insurers to begin coverage in the new year even if applicants miss the deadline by a few days. Also, it said enrollees who pay their first month's premium by Dec. 31 have to be given coverage starting the next day. Insurers previously were allowed to set earlier payment deadlines.

Officials even encouraged insurers to do something that normally would be anathema: offer coverage to consumers who sign up and pay a few days into the new year, but backdate the policies to Jan. 1. It wasn't clear how many carriers would take up the idea.

 

As Politico notes, this move is the latest in a long list of extensions, delays and punts that have plagued ObamaCare:

Sure, Obama’s not doing the things Republicans have suggested — push off centerpieces like the individual mandate, or even put the entire law on hold for a year. But piece by piece, the Obama administration keeps giving itself extensions on smaller parts of the law, because there’s always some piece that isn’t quite ready.

It’s an attempt to put out fires — but it’s also a painful admission that, yes, there are fires.

The administration is also extending a critical program — the temporary high-risk pool for people with pre-existing conditions — through the end of January, to make sure none of them suddenly lose their health coverage because they can’t sign up for new ObamaCare insurance by Jan. 1.

That’s after it postponed the employer coverage requirements for a year, delayed the online enrollment for the federal health insurance exchanges for small businesses, and told health insurers they can extend people’s coverage for an extra year — a last-minute attempt to un-cancel millions of canceled policies. It also delayed the Spanish-language website, even though Hispanics are a large proportion of the uninsured population. It even postponed next year’s enrollment period, pushing it conveniently past the November elections.

All of this tells us that the botched rollout of ObamaCare has been a setback for the enrollment process and the Administration is panicked. For the two months of enrollment, fewer than 365,000 people have “enrolled.” That’s a huge gap to reaching their 7-million-person goal by March 31, 2014. Remember, at least 5 million people have had their plans canceled and need to replace their coverage by December 23 for January 1 coverage. What of them?

Of those who “successfully” made it through the healthcare.gov website or the state exchange websites, as we’ve reported, at least ten percent of the data is incorrect, incomplete or missing. That means many Americans will have a rude awakening come New Year’s Day about their healthcare coverage.

It’s not just that the President needs more Americans to enroll, he specifically needs more healthy –and young- Americans to buy into ObamaCare to make it work. A system comprised of largely sick and aging Americans will struggle to bear the weight of the costs they incur for their medical needs. Also, insurers will look at the medical claims new enrollees make during the first few months of 2014 to set rates for 2015 and beyond. It’s hard to see how those future prices won’t be high and even prohibitive for future enrollees.

I hope the President, the Administration, and Americans are learning an important lesson from this failing process.

 

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