The Obama administration is making another change to the ACA. This time, the individual mandate is going under the knife.
Obamacare is on life support after being plagued with problems including (but not limited to) website issues, security issues, cancelled plans, higher rates, medication coverage confusion, the “you can keep your doctor” and “you can keep your plan” lies, negative poll results, unauthorized charges, and expensive (and ridiculous) ad campaigns.
Last night – four days before the December 23 enrollment deadline – the administration announced that the millions of consumers whose individual insurance policies have been cancelled will be allowed to buy bare-bones catastrophic plans or avoid the healthcare coverage requirement altogether.
That’s right – people whose individual plans were cancelled due to non-compliance with ACA guidelines will now be exempt from the individual mandate for 2014. They won’t have to pay a “tax penalty” (okay, let’s call it what it really is – an unconstitutional fine). A “hardship exemption” will be accepted for those who lost their existing coverage and think that the plans offered through the state and federal marketplaces are too expensive.
Until now, the ACA has allowed people under age 30 to buy catastrophic plans, and offers hardship exemptions for people over 30 who can not afford coverage (if the cheapest ACA “bronze” policy available on the state exchange marketplaces costs more than 8 percent of their annual income, they may qualify for that exemption). The law also includes a generalized “hardship exemption” for those who are facing an unforeseen difficulty, such as homelessness or divorce:
According to HHS, the hardship exemption covers people who “experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that he or she had a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.” (source)
Can’t we call Obamacare itself a “human-caused event”?
The change to the exemption criteria raises a concern about fairness – what about the people who didn’t have insurance in the first place? Shouldn’t they qualify for a hardship exemption too? And, what about Americans who were able to get through the exchanges to purchase coverage? Will they be allowed to drop that insurance and change to a catastrophic plan if they want or need less expensive coverage?
At this point, can anyone keep track of the mass confusion this train wreck has inflicted, anyway? How is any of this going to be tracked and monitored, considering that the IRS can’t handle its traditional duties, and the Obama administration can’t even offer a working website for the ACA?
As House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia put it:
How can anyone make health care decisions today knowing that the law may be unilaterally changed tomorrow?
Of course, insurers aren’t happy either, as Karen Ignani, head of the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans expressed:
This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers.
What impact will this have on the future of the individual mandate? It is hard to say right now, but Ezra Klein speculated on the possibilities in his Wonkblog column:
This puts the first crack is the individual mandate. The question is whether it’s the last. If Democratic members of Congress see this as solving their political problem with people whose plans have been canceled, it could help them stand against Republican efforts to delay the individual mandate. But if congressional Democrats use this ruling as an excuse to delay or otherwise de-fang the individual mandate for anyone who doesn’t want to pay for insurance under Obamacare, then it’ll be a very big problem for the law.
Offering a hardship exemption to offset the hardship caused by Obamacare is proof (as if we needed more) that the ACA is broken and can never be repaired.
Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”