What President Obama calls “glitches” and “bumps in the road” to the full implementation of the health-care law he signed in 2010, opponents see as evidence of the law’s deep flaws and unworkability. Yet even opponents -- I’m one -- have to concede that sometimes a glitch is just a glitch. In the case of the latest Obamacare delay, that appears to be what we’re looking at.
The law limits the out-of-pocket health-care costs that people have to pay in any year. Insurers complained, however, that they would not be ready to impose those limits, so in February the administration gave some of them a grace period during which they could set higher limits (or not have any limits). The news only broke today.
Some Obamacare critics see this as a major setback to the law, and others as even part of a stealth plot to foist a single-payer plan on Americans. But they are reading far too much into a minor delay. Eventually, employers and insurers will program their computers to keep track of consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses, and this provision of the law will be able to be implemented.
Still, it does seem as though the administration is awfully free in handing out waivers and delays when businesses and insurers complain. In July, it announced that it would delay the employer mandate -- the requirement that companies offer insurance or pay a fine -- for a year. What the administration has not done is announce a delay in the individual mandate. Starting next year, people who do not purchase health insurance will have to pay a tax.
That tax is more important than the other, delayed provisions to the functioning of Obamacare. The law’s new regulations could cause insurance markets to unravel in the absence of a penalty. (Indeed, they could cause that to happen even with the penalty.) But the penalty is also the law’s least popular provision. That’s why, after the employer-mandate delay was announced, House Republicans voted to delay the individual mandate as well. The administration threatened a veto, yet 22 Democrats voted for the delay anyway.
The administration’s latest display of flexibility on the law is going to make it harder to justify keeping the individual mandate on schedule. Maybe it should delay the whole thing while it works out the glitches.
(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor at National Review. Follow him on Twitter.)