It seems Nancy Pelosi was wrong when she said “we have to pass” ObamaCare to “find out what’s in it.” No one may ever know because the White House keeps treating the Affordable Care Act’s text as a mere suggestion subject to day-to-day revision. Its latest political retrofit is the most brazen: President Obama is partly suspending the individual mandate.
The White House argued at the Supreme Court that the insurance-purchase mandate was not only constitutional but essential to the law’s success, while refusing Republican demands to delay or repeal it. But late on Thursday, with only four days to go before the December enrollment deadline, the Health and Human Services Department decreed that millions of Americans are suddenly exempt.
Individuals whose health plans were canceled will now automatically qualify for a “hardship exemption” from the mandate. If they can’t or don’t sign up for a new plan, they don’t have to pay the tax. They can also get a special category of ObamaCare insurance designed for people under age 30.
So merry Christmas. If ObamaCare’s benefit and income redistribution requirements made your old, cheaper, better health plan illegal, you now have the option of going without coverage without the government taking your money as punishment. You can also claim the tautological consolation of an ObamaCare hardship exemption due to ObamaCare itself.
These exemptions were supposed to go only to the truly destitute such as the homeless, bankrupts or victims of domestic violence. But this week a group of six endangered Senate Democrats importuned HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to “clarify” that the victims of ObamaCare also qualify. An excerpt from their Wednesday letter, whose signatories include New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and Virginia’s Mark Warner, is nearby.
HHS and the Senators must have coordinated in advance because literally overnight HHS rushed out a bulletin noting that exemptions are available to those 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.” A tornado destroys the neighborhood or ObamaCare blows up the individual insurance market, what’s the difference?
The HHS ruling is that ObamaCare is precisely such a “significant, unexpected increase.” In other words, it is an admission that rate shock is real and the mandates drive up costs well into hardship territory. HHS is agreeing with the Senators that exemptions should cover “an individual whose 2013 plan was canceled and considers their new premium unaffordable.” In her reply letter, Mrs. Sebelius also observes that some people “are having difficulty finding an acceptable replacement.” She means the new plans are overpriced.
The under-30 ObamaCare category that is being opened to everyone is called “catastrophic” coverage. These plans are still more expensive than those sold on the former market but they’re about 20% cheaper on average than…