What this "hardship exemption" does is exempt those qualifying Americans from the individual mandate. That's right - they will not be forced by the Obama Administration to buy health insurance in 2014. Additionally, they will be free to purchase any insurance they choose, even insurance that does not meet the minimum standard mandated by Obamacare.
This is a horrendous sign for the progress of the law. While Obamacare has an explicit goal of forcing Americans to maintain "continuous coverage," the Obama Administration had already effectively delayed that as well, allowing those unable to purchase insurance to wait until March to do so, rather than January 1. As many as five million insurance plans have been canceled, and only 300,000 Americans have been able to purchase insurance on the federally-administered exchanges. There's just a massive gulf to be made up.
Ezra Klein wrote in the Washington Post:
According to HHS, the exemption covers people who "experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that he or she had a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan."
Today, the administration agreed with a group of senators, led by Mark Warner of Virginia, who argued that having your insurance plan canceled counted as "an unexpected natural or human-caused event." For these people, in other words, Obamacare itself is the hardship.
There is one reason and one reason only that insurance cancellations would be "unexpected": because President Obama did his best to hide it. His Administration knew that as many as 75% of insurance plans would be canceled in July 2010 - the only reason anyone might not have seen it coming is that President Obama lied repeatedly about it.
If it's been too difficult for people with canceled policies to purchase insurance, why is it not too difficult for people without policies? The exchanges have been open for the same amount of time for everyone. (They've also been malfunctioning for the same amount of time for everyone.) At what point will President Obama admit failure and accept the most reasonable solution - complete and full delay of Obamacare, for everyone?