Obamacare: despise it or hate it, it’s now the law of the land and we all need to accept it and make it … wait, what’s that? The President just changed the law? Okay then.
As you know, people and Republicans have been making a big noise, first about the continuing web site enrollment woes, and then about insurance company customers who are getting cancellation notices for their insurance policies after the President emphatically said for three years that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” (You most likely couldn’t keep your plan but in fairness to the President, he probably thought nobody would want to.) In response to this less than joyful noise, the administration has come up with an administrative fix that they think will put the screws to the insurance companies they blame for the mess, but is almost certain to backfire: they’re allowing insurers to reinstate the cancelled plans if the various state insurance commissioners permit it.
This scheme may temporarily help the administration because they can now deploy the Otherguy Overby defense (which they’ve used with some success in the past) and refocus the popular ire on the insurance companies that will probably not be able to reinstate most of the cancelled plans, or at least not anytime soon. I say “temporarily help” because even though people are easily distracted, if they can’t get their plans back then they will eventually remember who it was told them that they could keep their plans.
Beyond that detail, though, lurk other issues. Insurance companies are going to hate this because they just spent months if not years devising new, Obamacare-compliant policies, and reinstating the old policies will be an actuarial and programming nightmare that may not even be possible — and is almost certainly not possible in the six weeks remaining before many of those policies expire on January 1. Insurance commissioners in states where insurance commissioners have actual powers, which isn’t all of them, have to decide whether or not reinstating the cancelled policies is 1) feasible and 2) survivable.
Even if some companies miraculously get the math done before the end of the year, they will have no idea how many people will want to keep the plans because one of the requirements is that along with telling people they can keep their plan, they have to send a letter detailing all the reasons people might not want to keep their plan. So they would really have no idea whether the plans are going to make money or lose money. Boo hoo for insurers, I know, but putting them in that position won’t engender cooperation with the administration on other issues.
Aside from the issues with insurers and regulators, there’s the problem that some people may get to keep their plans while other people may not, and it will vary from state to state and very possibly from region to region within a state. As we noted earlier, the Otherguy defense can only take you so far; it might work if you just need a few hours head start to get out of Dodge but it ain’t going to hold up if people know where to find you for the next few years.
Meanwhile, there’s the web site issue. It’ll be a couple of weeks yet before we know how much of an enduring clusterfuck the federal exchange will create. People who aren’t in urgent need of a new plan are probably fine so long as nothing catastrophic happens to them in the next two or three months — surely the thing will be fixed in plenty of time before the March 31 deadline to buy insurance without incurring the penalty. (Right? Surely?) The critical need is for people who are under care now and can’t afford any interruption of it. They have to purchase a new plan by December 15 or risk losing their coverage and the treatments that go along with it. The first person who dies as a consequence of that will probably take Obamacare to the grave with her.
Also meanwhile, there’s a wee bit of a political problem developing for Democrats. While one can never, ever count on Republicans not to do something catastrophically stupid, Democrats have already lost the advantage over Republicans that they had accrued by way of the government shutdown and impending default. Gone, vanished. Perhaps they can resuscitate it if things go smoothly from here on out with Obamacare and whatever else comes up, but as we have scientifically proved, things will not go smoothly. It’s up to Republicans to pull the Democratic fat out of the fire once again.
UPDATE: This is sort of classic. President Obama is meeting with insurance company executives the day after he jammed them up rather than, say, the day before.