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Obamacare’s Mugged by Reality Moment

Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By JAMES C. CAPRETTA
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The GOP can strengthen its hand further by moving legislation to protect people who are losing their individual plans. Many millions of these currently insured Americans have already received or will be receiving soon notices from their insurers advising them of the termination of their existing plans, effective January 1. Insurers are halting these plans because Obamacare’s rules won’t let them continue to offer coverage (even outside the exchanges) under today’s rules, which generally allow lower premiums for younger and healthier consumers. But with healthcare.gov nearly impossible to navigate, individual market enrollees are losing their current plans without access to a viable alternative. And the clock is ticking. Those losing their coverage on January 1 will need to have a new plan in place by December 15 to ensure no lapse in coverage. And many would no doubt prefer to have a new plan picked sooner, to be on the safe side.

The GOP should come to their rescue with legislation allowing insurers to continue to offer the same plans they are offering today. Some insurers may choose not to reopen plans they have already decided to close, but others will likely resurrect their closed plans. If healthcare.gov’s problems persist into November, as they almost certainly will, legislation of this kind will have great resonance with an anxious electorate.

The GOP can have leverage in the next round of budget wrangling without resorting to absolutist threats. The president and Senate Democrats would like two things out of the budget process in coming months: greater certainty for 2014, and more spending on domestic programs. There’s no reason for the GOP to give on either of these objectives without getting something very significant in return. So long as the GOP continues to support “clean,” short-term appropriations bills to keep the government open, they can resist pressure from Democrats to provide higher, full-year funding amounts without significant concessions to GOP priorities.

Delaying the individual mandate would not be a small victory, either. The entire edifice of Obamacare is built on the premise that the individual mandate will create a stable insurance pool for the new program. That’s a dubious assumption. But there’s no doubt that some number of Americans will feel compelled to sign up with Obamacare just to avoid the uninsured tax. If the GOP were able to delay the mandate, and simultaneously to allow consumers to stay with their current individual market plans, it would dramatically change the trajectory of Obamacare and open up new possibilities for moving in a better direction in the future.

There are other important priorities on the GOP agenda, including spending restraint and entitlement reform. But by far the most important issue over the coming year will be Obamacare and its implementation. It is evident that the law is failing, that is true. But that’s all the more reason to keep the pressure on and not abandon the fight.

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