President Obama may have bought his signature domestic accomplishment some political breathing room last night by exempting millions of Americans from Obamacare's individual mandate, but he also made it much easier for future Republican president's to dismantle the law, after Obama inevitably leaves office.
Late last night, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a letter to a group of Democratic senators who had written her earlier in the week about the "many" constituents in their states who were "upset about the cancellation of their health care plans" due to Obamacare.
Sebelius' response letter outlined previous Obama administration promoted efforts to help those Americans who lost their health insurance due to Obamacare, and then also outlined a "clarification" about a new HHS approved method of mitigating Obamacare's harm:
As you point out, the Affordable Care Act recognizes that individuals facing a hardship that makes it difficult to afford a health care plan with comprehensive benefits may qualify for an exemption from the individual responsibility requirement. ... I very much appreciate your asking for a clarification on whether this exemption applies to those with cancelled plans who might be having difficulty paying for an existing bronze, silver, or gold plan. I agree with you that these consumers should qualify for this temporary hardship exemption, and I can assure you that the exemption will be available to them.
So what does one need to do to qualify for this new hardship exemption to the individual mandate? Neither the Sebelius letter nor the accompanying formal guidance letter specifically say. But for those individuals who wish to purchase catastrophic insurance offered through the Obamcare exchange, they must submit: 1) a hardship exemption form claiming "you consider other available policies unaffordable" and; 2) "supporting documentation indicating that your previous policy was cancelled."
Looking ahead, if a Republican were to win the White House in 2016, there is now nothing stopping a President Walker from issuing a guidance letter on the first day of his administration saying: "All Americans who believe the existing health insurance plans on their state exchanges are unaffordable, may submit a hardship exemption form to the IRS stating so, and they will all then be exempt from the Affordable Care Act's individual responsibility requirement."
The mandate would then be functionally dead. And no Democrat could do anything about it.