The White House announced Wednesday another delay to a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, this time beyond the next two elections. Republicans accused President Barack Obama of manipulating the law to shield vulnerable Democrats from voter backlash over the least popular part of Obamacare. Leaders in the insurance industry say the move further destabilizes a market already thrown into a tailspin by the healthcare overhaul.
The White House will allow so-called “sub-standard” insurance plans to continue into 2017. In November, Obama announced an initial delay to the provision through 2014. The delay was a response to public outrage after 5 million Americans received cancellation notices because their individually purchased insurance plans did not meet the Affordable Care Act’s standards. The public and politicians alike accused Obama of reneging on his campaign pledge of “If you like your plan, you can keep it.”
But the delay announced yesterday could result in higher costs for all consumers rather than easing the burden on those whose plans would have been canceled. Like the initial delay last fall, the latest one is voluntary. State insurance commissions can choose whether to allow existing plans to continue, and insurers can opt in or out in states that make the allowance.
“This decision allows different rules for different policies which threaten to undermine the new marketplace,” said Adam Hamm, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “Creating two tiers of plans—the compliant and non-compliant—could result in higher premiums overall and market disruptions in 2015 and beyond.”
Ben Domenech of the Heartland Institute echoed Hamm’s statement, saying, “It’s going to cause a lot more disruption and there’s going to be a lot of insurers who are going to have to look at their books and see if they can make these things work.”
The net effect of allowing existing plans to continue could be fewer Obamacare enrollees, paving the way for the law’s repeal if Republicans take the White House in 2016, Domenech said.
“It’s a lot easier when there are only a few million people benefiting from a plan, as opposed to 25 to 30 million people, as the Obama administration had expected,” he said.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the delay “a desperate move to protect vulnerable Democrats in national elections later this year. … What makes this latest delay so troubling is the fact that it was prompted not by the heartbreaking stories of millions of Americans but by the private pleadings of a handful of endangered Democrats.”