In a little-noticed regulation last week, the Obama administration suspended for millions of Americans the so-called individual mandate requiring them to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.
The delay will be good until at least 2016.
This means that the individual mandate, the “core of the Affordable Care Act,” as the Wall Street Journal termed it, will be put off for millions of American until well after this year’s midterm elections and until President Barack Obama is out of office.
Senior officials didn’t officially announce or explain the extension. Instead, it was obscured in a separate delay announced last week that will allow consumers with plans that are non-compliant with Obamacare to keep them until at least 2016.
The bulletin announcing the two-year grace period for non-compliant plans included a passage explaining that a rule in a separate December 2013 bulletin would be extended by two more years, the Journal reported. The casually mentioned two-year extension was the rule that would allow millions of Americans with canceled policies to basically opt out of the mandate altogether.
The Department of Health and Human Services in 2013 ruled that a “hardship exemption” could be made for certain Americans who had their policies canceled by Obamacare. The exemption was designed to give people with canceled policies a special type of coverage designed for people under 30 let them temporarily opt out of the individual mandate.
Most importantly, the “hardship exemption” was supposed to be reserved for the truly deserving, such as abused women, the evicted and people going through bankruptcy.
However, after the botched rollout of the Obamacare website, HHS decided to take the “hardship exemption” a step further.
For many Americans, all you have to do now is sign a form claiming your plan was canceled and that you “believe that the plan options available in the [Obamacare] Marketplace in your area are more expensive than your canceled health insurance policy” or “you consider other available policies unaffordable,” HHS said in a 2013 bulletin.
It’s unclear what tests or rules are in place to ensure that people are telling the truth, but the Journal reported Americans would likely at least have to provide HHS with proof of a canceled policy.
But even if proof of cancellation is preferred, that likely won’t stop people who apply because HHS also allows people to apply if they claim they’ve experienced “another hardship in obtaining health insurance,” which only requires “documentation if possible.”
There’s also an exemption available for people who are simply unable to afford health insurance coverage, the Journal reported.
Basically, there appears to be an individual mandate exemption for everyone.
It’s worth pointing out that as the Affordable Care Act has been repeatedly tweaked, delayed and modified, the president and his allies have publicly denounced efforts to repeal the law or delay it until it can be fixed.
But why the secrecy behind postponing the individual mandate?
The Wall Street Journal has a theory:
HHS is also trying to pre-empt the inevitable political blowback from the nasty 2015 tax surprise of fining the uninsured for being uninsured, which could help reopen ObamaCare if voters elect a Republican Senate this November. Keeping its mandate waiver secret for now is an attempt get past November and in the meantime sign up as many people as possible for government-subsidized health care.
The larger point is that there have been so many unilateral executive waivers and delays that ObamaCare must be unrecognizable to its drafters, to the extent they ever knew what the law contained.
Here’s the bulletin containing the individual mandate extension:
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter