State spurns Obama's plea for health law fix

 

President Obama wants a lifeline to rescue his botched health care law roll-out, his sinking public approval ratings and his party's electoral chances next November.

The state of California just told President Obama he'd better learn how to swim.

The board of the Covered California health exchange voted unanimously to break with the president and maintain its requirement that insurers terminate most individual policies on Dec. 31, because those policies do not meet all of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare."

In other words, more than one million California policyholders will not be able to keep the plans they like for another year, despite the president's explicit promises - plural - that they could do so.

Uh oh.

Officials acknowledge their decision won't satisfy many angry customers and many of them will pay significantly more for new coverage next year. But those side effects are apparently easier to tolerate, rather than allowing widespread renewals that could derail or cripple the exchange's construction.

"We know this transition is difficult and some people will be hurt," Covered California board member Susan Kennedy told reporters. "But delaying the transition won't solve a single problem. I think it will make a bad situation worse if we complicate it further."

Kennedy's right, even if her bed-side manner could use a lot of work. People are going to be hurt by this train-wreck of a law. This is a bad situation - no, an awful situation - and it's going to get worse whether it is complicated further or not.

All this does is give the Obama administration another headache as one of their staunchest allies and supporters of the initiative - California - says thanks, but no thanks, to his "fail-Mary" pass.

The president's grand, overreaching vision to overhaul and restructure the nation's health care system was never going to be an easy task, as one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy was going to be ultimately affected by this so-called "reform."

The president knew passing a new and bureaucratically-dense law, filled with thousands of pages of regulations, taxes, fees and penalties was going to be politically unpopular and a public-relations nightmare. So, when it came time to present the details of his plan to the American people, he used some "imprecise wording" in his speeches and campaign rallies.

That "imprecise wording" came back to bite the president when millions of Americans received notices their health insurance policies were going to be cancelled beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Period.

Those citizens who remember hearing the president assure them they could keep their health insurance plans if they liked them - on more than several occasions - grew so angry with the White House and the administration that the president quickly back-tracked. He called upon insurers to allow those cancelled policies to remain in place for one more year. It was the president's attempt to fix the barn door after the horse had escaped.

Unfortunately for this president, that's not what the law - passed by a deeply divided Congress in 2010 - calls for. You can't change the rules in the middle of the game.

Now it's up to state exchanges, like Covered California, to pick up the pieces and dodge the tomatoes being hurled at them from incensed customers.

California officials estimate that nearly 600,000 customers who received cancellation notices are likely to see higher rates next year, according to published reports.

In one instance, Javier Lopez, a self-employed engineer in Huntington Beach, will see his premiums rise more than 20% next year to cover him and his family of four. He was already spending $750 a month for his soon-to-be-terminated plan.

"I'm extremely disappointed," Lopez said. "I think the intent of the law was to allow people with insurance to keep it."

No one can really divine the intent of the Affordable Care Act these days. Nancy Pelosi famously assured us we'd know what was in the bill once it was passed. Bet she wishes she'd taken a sneak peek before it went to the House floor.

California is not the only "blue state" to reject the president's proposal. Washington and Minnesota have also signaled publicly they will not be extending those cancelled policies for consumers.

"I think it was a very hard decision for California," Timothy Jost, a health-policy expert and law professor at Washington and Lee University, said. "You'd like to make everyone a winner. It's unfortunately a situation where that can't happen."

There may not be many winners in this mess, but we can handicap the early losers. The Democratic party stands to be obliterated in the 2014 mid-term elections and whomever accepts the nomination for the party for the 2016 presidential race - Hillary? Joe Biden? - will have to wear the scourge of Obamacare like a millstone.

For the rest of us Californians, the prescription is pain. And there's nothing in Obamacare that's going to make it all go away.

 

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