The Mandate Gets Delayed, A Little

Oct 24 2013 @ 2:09pm

Late yesterday, the administration announced a six-week individual mandate delay. Originally, even though open enrollment lasts through the end of March, individuals would have needed to buy health insurance by February 15th in order avoid a penalty. Sarah Kliff reported the news:

They are allowing anyone who purchases coverage during open enrollment (up through March 31) to not face a tax penalty for those three months they spent uncovered. This is only true for people who buy coverage through the marketplace.

How much this change had to do with HealthCare.gov’s technical problems isn’t totally clear. On the one hand, it certainly helps alleviate some of the time pressures on the administration if it can give shoppers six additional weeks to purchase coverage. On the other, it’s easy to see this change getting made in any situation. It’s confusing to have two separate deadlines, one when the individual mandate kicks in and another when shopping ends. Either way, now those two dates are the same. The mandate kicks in and open enrollment ends for exchange shoppers on March 31.

Chait bets that “the two deadlines for enrollment and avoiding a penalty, probably would have happened even if HealthCare.gov wasn’t a glitchy mess.” Drum isn’t so sure:

I’m a little surprised the administration is taking this action so soon. After all, if the Obamacare website is up and running by mid-November, that should still leave plenty of time for everyone to meet the old deadline. This suggests that the White House has already concluded that fixing the online application process is going to be a long slog.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin will submit legislation to delay the individual mandate by a full year. Chait unpacks the politics of this move:

It’s a pure political maneuver by vulnerable Democrats to insulate themselves from an unpopular national story. And as political theater, it’s a fairly clever maneuver. President Obama could simply veto a legislative delay if it passes. It would have been harder for him to veto a bill delaying the individual mandate if it were tied to reopening the federal government or lifting the debt ceiling. The individual mandate lets red state Democrats engage in some relatively harmless distancing rituals.

Pierce piles on:

If Manchin wants to delay the mandate because he doesn’t like it, he should say so, and he should admit [that] he doesn’t like the law, period, because, otherwise, he’s saying he likes the law, but not the parts that make it work, and that would be a really dumb thing to argue.