Deadlines are dead on arrival

Deadlines are dead on arrival

The Affordable Care Act continues to be a work in progress.

It wouldn't be a normal week in Washington without President Barack Obama ordering another big change in the Affordable Care Act.

And this week's change was a real doozy; President Obama embraced the continuation of individual insurance plans issued by what he had previously called "bad apple" insurance companies selling health coverage plans he considers substandard.

He didn't want to do it, but political necessity demanded President Obama approve a two-year extension of plans that don't meet the requirements set out by the Affordable Care Act.

He acted in response to demands by increasingly nervous Democrats who fear that public unhappiness with the implementation of his signature program will create a backlash at the polls in November.

Readers may recall the firestorm that ensued last fall after the cancellation of 4.7 million individual health insurance policies because those policies did not cover all the mandates in the Obamacare health law. Individual policyholders bitterly complained that the Obamacare mandates forced them to buy coverage they didn't want at prices they couldn't afford. At the same time, the federal government's Obamacare website was proving mostly unworkable, creating the specter of a federal government that was both high-handed and incompetent.

President Obama responded by announcing the website would be fixed and that individual policyholders could continue their old policies for one year if insurance commissioners in their state agreed to approve them. The problem, however, is that Obama's one-year extension was scheduled to expire just before the November election, creating the possibility of more widespread unhappiness right before the fall balloting.

Pressed by congressional Democrats, Obama is trying to take that concern off the table with another extension — this time two years. That would push the new deadline to just before the 2016 presidential election; but President Obama apparently will worry about that when the time comes.

In the meantime, the nation is left with the on-again, off-again implementation of a hugely ambitious federal program whose goal is to oversee every aspect of the health insurance of 300 million-plus people.

To say that it's not going well would be an understatement — President Obama has now announced roughly 40 unilateral changes in his Obamacare legislation. That, of course, raises another serious issue. While President Obama's rewriting is convenient, it's certainly not consistent with the Founding Father's intent that Congress write the laws that the executive branch implements.

President Obama's political imperatives of the moment cannot trump the legislative process; but for the time being they certainly are.

As serious as that issue is, an even bigger concern is whether consumers are signing up in sufficient numbers for Obamacare to allow the program to operate in a viable fashion. Obamacare requires that the higher premiums paid by younger, healthier people subsidize lower premiums for older, sicker people. If they do not, the program faces financial disaster. While government officials have given repeated assurances about sign-ups, they have not disclosed the specific numbers. Further, they are counting as enrollees those who have indicated an interest in purchasing insurance through the Obamacare exchanges but who have not yet paid for coverage.

As a result, questions swirl around even the most basic aspect of an epic program that is being rewritten almost week by week on presidential order alone.

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