Obamacare witching hour approaches
Tomorrow is the deadline for Americans to sign up for insurance in order to get covered and avoid the IRS penalty/tax/fee/ for disobeying the law - maybe.
Things are so screwed up that insurers and consumers alike don't know what to do.
But as the date approaches, a series of decisions by the Obama administration to delay some of the law's most important provisions and to extend some deadlines has caused uncertainty among insurers and confusion among consumers.
Already the enrollment of young adults appears to be lagging behind the expectations of federal officials and insurers. And insurers, struggling with problems caused by the chaotic debut of the federal insurance exchange in October, have criticized the administration's last-minute changes, saying they could cause instability in the market.
The sudden shifts have sent a mixed message to consumers about the significance of the Monday deadline. They reduce the sense of urgency but not the need for coverage. Accordingly, federal and state officials said they were prepared for an increase in activity on their websites and at telephone call centers as uninsured consumers rushed to beat the deadline.
"The Dec. 23 deadline is a huge milestone on the way to coverage that will provide relief and hope to a lot of people," said Andrea J. Routh, the executive director of the Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance, a consumer group. "For many, this will be the best Christmas gift they've had in a long time."
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency was adding staff, training and outreach efforts across the country. "People tend to have questions and act when they come up against deadlines," she said.
President Obama said Friday that "more than one million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces" since they opened on Oct. 1. The administration had hoped that 3.3 million would be signed up by the end of this month, according to a memo prepared by the Health and Human Services Department in early September.
States running their own exchanges, like California, Connecticut, Kentucky and New York, said they had seen a surge in demand in the last few weeks.
"Momentum is growing," said Peter V. Lee, the executive director of the California insurance exchange. "Friends are telling friends. Families are telling families."
This may be the best Christmas gift for some, but for others, a lump of coal would have been better. At least you can burn the coal to keep warm. All you an do if the government has cancelled your insurance is try to fight your way through a dysfunctional website to purchase more expensive, less expansive insurance policies.
There are "deadlines," and then there are "deadlines." Who knows what "fixes" will come our way this week? More "hardship" exemptions to the individual mandate? Perhaps more peremptory orders given to insurance companies to break their own rules and cover people?
The administration has made it impossible to plan ahead with any certainty. It's even possible that after the 1st of the year. Obama will decide to suspend the individual mandate, leaving those who've signed up for insurance looking like chumps.
Confusion and chaos - that's been the hallmark of Obamacare since its rollout.