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Another power grab meant to rescue the broken health care law

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“In a surprise move late Thursday,” the Washington Examiner notes, the Obama administration declared that “the millions of Americans facing insurance cancellations next year won't have to pay a fine if they don't obtain health care coverage.”

The major policy shift, outlined in a letter from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Democratic lawmakers, is the latest attempt by the White House to atone for President Obama's broken promise that all Americans could keep their insurance plans under Obamacare.

Before anyone declares that Christmas has come early, consider a few stark realities:

  • This delay in the individual mandate is one more instance of an administration operating above the Constitution, which gives Congress alone the power to amend a law that it duly passes. The president has no more authority to issue this delay than he did his directive to postpone the employer mandate one year or to hand out quid pro quo waivers to whomever he chose.
  • The “fine” (whoops! “tax”) is largely unenforceable because the law contains no provision whereby the IRS is empowered to collect non-compliance penalties. Even those who are subject to an assessment (by, for example, collecting a tax refund from the IRS), can easily circumvent the penalty by claiming a “Qualifying Life Event.”
  • The millions of Americans bumped from their "substandard" plans will now have the option to sign up for bare-boned “catastrophic” insurance if they so desire. According to Avik Roy, of the Manhattan Institute, these plans — cobbled together as an eleventh-hour stopgap measure by an administration increasingly under duress — are no less expensive than the Bronze plans already available under the law as originally conceived but cover far less. To get some sense of how God-awful these policies are likely to be consider how dreadful are the policy options designed through “careful Congressional deliberation.” Then multiply by a million.
  • Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said that “this latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers.”

According to John Fund, writing at National Review Online, this latest "fix" is at least the fourteenth unilateral change to Obamacare that’s been made without consulting Congress.

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