Desperate Obama delays insurance premium rate deadline until after mid-terms

Laws? Laws? We don't need no steenkin' laws!

The Obama administration plans to push back by a month the second-year start of enrollment in its health program to give insurers more time to adjust to growing pains in the U.S. law, a move that may stave off higher premiums before the 2014 congressional elections.

The enrollment period, previously scheduled to begin Oct. 15, 2014, will now start Nov. 15, said an official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who asked not to be identified because the decision isn't public. The change is important to insurers that need more time to evaluate the first year of the government-run marketplaces.

Technical problems are undermining efforts to attract a broad array of customers to the new markets, a prerequisite to keeping plans affordable in the long run. Keeping prices from spiking next year is "absolutely critical" for President Barack Obama if he wants to preserve his signature legislative achievement, said Ana Gupte, a Leerink Swann & Co. analyst.

"The death of this law would be for health insurance companies to price policies for 2015 in a way that premiums skyrocket," said Gupte, who is based in New York, in a telephone interview. "At that point, it's a death spiral and it's over. So he needs to do something."

Moving the filing deadline back a month gives insurers more time to assess the mix of consumers who enroll in plans in the first year they're offered through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The young, healthy people needed to balance the cost of care for older consumers aren't likely to sign up in large numbers until March, said Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who helped design the law.

"This is an important business for them and they want to make smart decisions about how they set their rates," Gruber said in a telephone interview. "It's in the nation's interest they get time to make those decisions."

It may also allow room for the government to extend the current enrollment period, Leerink Swann's Gupte said. "If their implementation is not going to be improved in a meaningful way by the end of December, extending the enrollment period would be a wise decision," she said.

Starting enrollment after the Nov. 4 congressional elections may also be important to a president seeking to hang onto the Democrat-led Senate and maintain or gain seats in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Who's Bloomberg's "non-partisan" go to guy for analysis of this blatantly political move? One of the guys who designed Obamacare in the first place, of course. No bias there - move along.

The idea that insurance companies need more time to figure out who they are insuring is hooey. This is a desperate, hail mary pass by the administration to stave off electoral disaster when sticker shock really bites consumers next year.

Did anyone bother to ask whether the president can get away with this legally? No matter. The die is cast. The rollout problems may eventually be made tolerable. but that won't negate the premium increases that people have already experienced and that won't be alleviated by any "fix" offered by the president. And even if the insurance companies don't reveal their premium hikes before the election, the fear of such will be there and will still play into the GOP's hands.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky

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