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Obama delays ObamaCare deadlines again

double-face-obama-63825058778A little more than a month ago, President Obama and his allies in Congress said that Republicans who wanted to delay implementation of ObamaCare were terrorists holding the nation hostage who simply wanted to shutdown the government for bad faith reasons. He repeatedly said ObamaCare could not be delayed because it was “the law of the land.” Now Obama has unilaterally delayed ObamaCare, yet again, and conveniently pushed its implementation until after the midterm elections – precisely what the Republicans suggested and what Obama labeled at the time as “hostage taking.” 

by Alexis Simendinger

The Obama administration announced Friday it has adjusted the Affordable Care Act calendar once again, making it possible for consumers to enroll for health insurance through Dec. 23 in order to be covered on Jan. 1. The administration decided to stretch purchasers’ decision-making allowance by eight days to accommodate continued challenges prompted by work underway to build and repair the federal website, HealthCare.gov.

Also announced Friday was a delay of the 2014 enrollment period, which will push the start date beyond the Nov. 4 midterm elections.

The 2013 change squeezes the December turn-around time for insurers, who must process all final enrollments and payments. Instead of having two weeks after the cut-off of new enrollments, they will have one week before new policies go into effect in 2014.

The decision also gave the government another week to improve the electronic process of transmitting all accurate data to insurers from both consumers and Uncle Sam before new policies take effect.

The administration consulted with insurers before embracing an extra week of health-care shopping time for Americans before Christmas.

“They are aware of this date change, and this was done in consultation with them to make sure that consumers would be able to access coverage beginning Jan. 1,” said Julie Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is the arm of the Health and Human Services Department responsible for implementing the enrollment process in 36 states.

Consumers who sign up for new coverage through the federal marketplace are not considered covered until their payments are received by the insurance companies they selected. To be insured on Jan. 1, payments must be received no later than Dec. 31, Bataille said.

Americans can continue to decide up until March 31 if they want to buy new coverage through the insurance exchanges. Policies purchased in 2014 could begin on the first of each month through April, depending on the timing of new enrollments and payments.

The administration repeated Friday that six months of enrollment time — Oct. 1 through March 31 — would be enough time for consumers to shop, enroll, understand if they qualify for tax subsidies, and pay for new coverage under the law. Asked if the government was considering extending the March 31 deadline for the mandate that everyone have insurance next year, Bataille responded, “Not at this point.”

The administration continues to stress that Americans can sign up for coverage through the websites available in all states, directly with insurance providers, by phone to special call centers, or via paper applications. All of those enrollments, however, eventually loop through the electronic federal database.

Separately, CMS announced another calendar adjustment in 2014 that will delay the start of the 2015 enrollment period until Nov. 15 — beyond Election Day on Nov. 4 next year — to sign up for health coverage through the exchanges. (The enrollment window will close on Jan. 15, 2015, instead of the previous closing date of Dec. 7, 2014.)

Obama’s critics charged that Democrats’ political anxieties about retaliation from dissatisfied voters next year encouraged the administration to put off announcements of industry price hikes until after the midterm elections.

The administration denied this, saying the change was made to accommodate the needs of private insurers. Officials said the companies welcomed the extra month of data-gathering before setting their final policy rates for 2015.

“The reason for doing that is to make sure that the insurers have the benefit of more time to evaluate their experience from this year and take that into account as they determine what would be necessary for their 2015 rates,” Bataille said.

The spokeswoman denied that most insurance companies by mid-2014 would already know the rates they planned to charge customers beginning Jan. 1, 2015. “Not necessarily,” she told a reporter during a conference call. “This gives them the additional time that they need to do that evaluation.”

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics.