Tragedy for Republicans: More people will be getting health insurance!

A new grace period for Obamacare enrollment means many will now be covered -- and the right couldn't be more upset

By Brian Beutler
March 27, 2014 3:44PM (UTC)
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Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Putting it out there now: By May 1, enrollment in ACA-compliant health plans through federally facilitated and state-based exchanges will hit the symbolic 7 million mark, and conservatives will whine that it doesn't count because something something.

I'll even go way out on a limb and put five whole dollars on it.

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My confidence stems from the Obama administration's decision, announced Wednesday, to create a grace period of sorts for people who have attempted to apply for coverage on healthcare.gov but got sidelined along the way.

This would annoy and delight conservatives under any circumstances, just as every Obamacare delay and exception annoys and delights conservatives. But what genuinely pisses them off in this circumstance is that the administration has set up a system that's deliberately easy to game, for the purposes of increasing enrollment.

The spirit of the extension is to give people who've already begun the process by March 31 a small amount of time to complete their unfinished applications, and to insure against the possibility that the system gets clogged up on the last couple days of the month. Administration officials, via Jonathan Cohn, compare this to making sure that people who are still in line when their polling places close are allowed to vote.

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But it doesn't appear that there will be any mechanism in place to prevent people who ignored Obamacare for the past six months from showing up on April 1 and beginning brand-new applications. Everyone who avails themselves of this extension will have to affirmatively state that they began the process before April 1, but some of them will lie, and their claims will seemingly not be audited.

(In related news, I sent my rent in a couple of days late a few months back, but didn't get charged a late fee because my landlord deposited the check before the 5th. It was amazing.)

So the extension won't be limited to the X million people already in the system with pending applications but to anyone in the universe of eligibles who began the process or is willing to falsely claim they tried.

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The administration is definitely playing Calvinball, in that nobody saw this coming before Tuesday night. But the statute gives the Department of Health and Human Services very broad discretion to adjust implementation of the policy, enrollment in particular, and they got the policy basically right.

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When the administration has taken steps that threaten the actuarial integrity of the ACA's risk pools, the insurance industry has issued grave warnings about the impact on future premiums. But they're actually pretty happy about this extension. A couple of weeks of extra enrollment probably isn't long enough to saddle the market with a bunch of free-riders, who wait until they were sick to sign up, but will mean many, many customers that might otherwise have been locked out of the system.

One way to infer that the extension is good policy is that conservatives responded with a familiar ritual: First, mockery; next, unsupported claims of lawlessness or unconstitutionality (somehow the republic survived this healthcare law delay just fine); and finally, barely veiled threats that a Republican president use executive discretion to sabotage the law.

All of that feeds a familiar narrative that may or may not damage the law's popularity. For what it's worth, I don't see how the #trainwreck broken record can do much more damage to the law's popularity; however, I do imagine that a grace period will strike people who interact with the system as eminently fair.

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However, there can be no mistaking the outrage for principled commitment to process in this case. A bunch more people will be getting insurance, the law will become more deeply rooted, and to conservatives, that is an atrocity.


Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at bbeutler@salon.com and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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Affordable Care Act Barack Obama Delays Editor's Picks Enrollment Gop Obamacare Republicans The Right