Late last week, the Obama administration made a series of “requests” to insurance companies that are participating in the new exchanges, federal or state, as well as those companies processing renewal requests for individual insurance policies that were initially cancelled and may now be renewed in those states where the state insurance commissioner has given the OK.
These “requests” follow a series of retreats from deadlines established at the time the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. These include:
- delaying the employer mandate for a year;
- delaying the end of the sign-up period for coverage beginning January 1;
- delaying the introduction of the Spanish language website;
- delaying small business online enrollment for a year;
- delaying the beginning of the enrollment period for 2015 until mid-November so that it follows the 2014 midterms (a delay selected so that voters do not get to see the large premium increases that almost certainly will be coming in the second year); and
- allowing insurance companies to reinstate cancelled policies that had been judged non-compliant with Obamacare mandates or “grandfathering corridors.”
The latest “requests” may seem in some way to be more of the same and, if anything, less burdensome since they are requests rather than official delays or changes in policies, and are described as nothing more than a few suggestions to ease the transition to the new coverage.
There is another way, however, to see the latest “fixes” that the Obama administration is requesting from the insurance companies, and that is to view them as something far removed from business as usual. The purpose of the requests, as with all of the delays and policy changes to date, is a fairly obvious attempt to shift blame away from the law itself and the president and members of the Democratic Party who drafted the law, promoted it, voted for it, and defended it every step of the way.
The obvious fall guys for the Obama administration are the insurance companies. These firms have never been popular, but they bought into supporting the new law because it promised them 20 million new enrollees on the exchanges, with a public utility model that ensured a certain level of profit for the new policies. The companies are now learning that they are not independent players anymore, free to set prices and conditions for coverage that are consistent with the law that was passed and for which they, unlike the administration, had planned. They are, it seems, now at the whim and mercy of a politically deflated president who needs the insurance companies to change their way of doing business from month to month — this time to prevent a January rollout fiasco when coverage is scheduled to begin for those who have supposedly signed up.