Shield the medical-device makers! Delay the Transitional Reinsurance Fee!
Most of the GOP’s rallying cries fell flat during the recent congressional standoff over Obamacare. But one of them—Delay the individual mandate!—is starting to resonate, thanks to the botched launch of the new online marketplace for health insurance.
So when the White House tried this week to clarify the deadline for securing health coverage, the press took notice. “The Obama administration may give Americans an extension on how long they can go without health insurance before facing a penalty under the Affordable Care Act,” the Wall Street Journal declared Wednesday in a widely quoted report.
But don’t burn your Obamacare card yet. The administration isn’t changing the enrollment period for 2014 health coverage. The period will still run through March 31, just as the law specifies. The purported delay is really a tweak. If you enroll in a plan that hasn’t taken effect by March 31, you may not have to pay a fine.
As written, the health care law requires everyone to have health coverage by March 31. Taken literally, that rule would push the enrollment deadline back to February 15, since insurers take two weeks to process applications, and coverage generally starts on the first day of the month.
The IRS, which will enforce the insurance mandate, has embraced that literal interpretation, but the Department of Health and Human Services has taken a softer stance, implying that consumers would have until March 31 to enroll in a plan.
To resolve the inconsistency, the administration says it may extend the enrollment deadline beyond mid-February. “We are exploring options currently,” an HHS official told the Wall Street Journal, repeating what White House Spokesman Jay Carney had said publicly on Monday, “and will issue guidance at a later date.”
As long as the 36 federally-run exchanges are sputtering, any adjustment of the dates will play publicly as a defeat for the president and the health care law. At least two Democratic senators (Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor) and one comedian (Jon Stewart) have joined the GOP’s call for a real delay in the mandate. Wednesday’s rumors aside, the administration hasn’t offered one. But if healthcare.gov is still broken six weeks from now, it may have no choice.