Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Obama Delays Obamacare Again Without Congress

The Obama administration said Wednesday that insurers can wait until 2016 before canceling plans that don't comply with Obamacare.

The administration released a host of final regulations that, among other things, ease reporting requirements for businesses and allow insurers to keep selling individual policies that don't meet the law's requirements. Those plans, which the White House first uncanceled in November, can now last until 2016 or, in some cases, 2017.

Amid an uproar from congressional Democrats, President Obama first announced in November that he would let states and insurers decide whether they wanted to uncancel plans that don't cover everything the Affordable Care Act requires. But that one-year transition set up another round of cancellation notices for this October—just before the midterm elections.

Under the additional extension announced Wednesday, those cancellation notices will come in October 2016, although plans that offer early renewals could be extended into 2017. The administration doesn't expect many people to be affected at that point.

Administration offiials denied any political motivation for the latest delay, though press materials about the changes specifically name-checked Democratic senators who are up for reelection this year and have pushed for Obamacare changes—including Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Udall, and Mark Warner.

Uncanceling pre-Obamacare plans has a small but negative impact on the law's insurance exchanges, the new marketplaces where individuals who buy insurance on their own can shop for coverage.

The people most likely to hang on to a plan that doesn't meet all ACA requirements, rather than switching to an Obamacare-compliant policy, are typically healthy and reasonably affluent. Allowing those consumers to stay out of the exchanges carries some risk of higher premiums next year if those inside the new marketplaces are sicker than expected.

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