The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 3, 2013

Delay ACA deadline for individuals

WHY IT MATTERS: Start the clock when the health exchanges can work flawlessly rather than ram through to meet an arbitrary deadline

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Former Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., commenting on critics of a Supreme Court nominee even before facing the judiciary committee famously said, “What you’ve had here . . . is not a rush to judgment — it’s a stampede to judgment.”

The same kind of dust is being kicked up over the health exchanges’ botched debut.

And now there are reports that hundreds of thousands of Americans are getting letters from their insurers dropping their coverage because the policies fall short of the minimums required by the Affordable Care Act.

Kaiser Health News said the new policies will offer consumers better coverage, in some cases, for comparable cost especially when you factor in federal subsidies for those who qualify. The law requires policies sold in the individual market to cover 10 “essential” benefits, such as prescription drugs, mental health treatment and maternity care. In addition, insurers cannot reject people with medical problems or charge them higher prices. The policies must also cap consumers’ annual expenses at levels lower than many plans sold before the new rules.

Regardless, the cancellation notices angered many Americans who recall President Obama’s statement that people could keep their plans if they liked them — even if they were so barebones it barely covered anything.

Amid this dust are accusations flying across political divides, a very uncomfortable congressional hearing for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius where the only things missing were pitchforks and torches, and revelations that contractors — being singled out by the administration as the source of the problem — launching into the defense of “we tried to warn them!”

Meanwhile, the time clock is clicking down with the individual mandate requiring Americans to have insurance by Jan. 1 or face a fine.

With a clunky website, some Americans who are losing their current insurance can’t sign up for new insurance. This leaves them with either paying the higher rates of their existing insurer to meet the minimum requirements or going without coverage.

Rather than “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” we should step back and delay the individual mandate requirement at least equal to the amount of time it purportedly will take to get the websites functioning properly.

Ten Senate Democrats have told President Obama that individuals “should not be penalized for lack of coverage” if they are unable to purchase health insurance because of technical problems.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) proposed legislation to delay the individual mandate until the health exchanges are properly running. Rubio argued that if, in fact, the website is fully functional by Nov. 30 as the administration promises, then the mandate will be back in effect.

There’s more to fix, though, then the website. And the administration needs time to address the loss of insurance quandary and, in some cases, the lack of competitive providers.

And even if the website is flawlessly working — and there is little evidence that will be true — by the end of November, that gives little time for people to sign up on the exchanges, process the applications and make such critical decisions.

Do we really need to rush the individual mandate through just to meet an arbitrary deadline?

We need to time to make rational decisions under less pressure. This will not only give the administration time to fix the technical problems but also give time for people to better ascertain what they want to do.

It’s not the $95 fine people should worry about but rather the lack of any insurance they can live with after Jan. 1.

Let’s stop the stampede both to judgment and to implementation of the ACA. Once the health exchanges are up and running flawlessly, start the clock over and begin again.