Drip: Administration Alters, Delays Major Obamacare Provision for Small Businesses

Posted: Apr 02, 2013 1:08 PM

We've been "celebrating" Obamacare's third anniversary over the last two weeks, repeatedly drawing attention to a memorable quote from one of the program's chief administrators: 

Henry Chao, an official at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services who is overseeing the technology of the exchanges said at a recent conference. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.” Chao also described himself as “nervous.”

If he's nervous, you should be, too.  This isn't some program that can collapse and go away without much ripple effect.  Millions of people are counting on Obamacare to work the way it was described by its proponents.  The law will impact supporters and detractors alike.  Already, the law is proving to be an unwieldy nightmare, as the government labors to meet its own deadlines.  Individuals, families and businesses are slated to have access to a "reformed" healthcare system starting in early 2014, four years after the law was signed with much fanfare.  But that time horizon evidently hasn't provided ample time for the feds to get their act together and offer you the options and features you were promised for the bargain-basement price of nearly $2 trillion.  The New York Times reports that the launch date for a major section of the law is being pushed back:

Unable to meet tight deadlines in the new health care law, the Obama administration is delaying parts of a program intended to provide affordable health insurance to small businesses and their employees — a major selling point for the health care legislation. The law calls for a new insurance marketplace specifically for small businesses, starting next year. But in most states, employers will not be able to get what Congress intended: the option to provide workers with a choice of health plans. They will instead be limited to a single plan. The choice option, already available to many big businesses, was supposed to become available to small employers in January. But administration officials said they would delay it until 2015 in the 33 states where the federal government will be running insurance markets known as exchanges. And they will delay the requirement for other states as well. The promise of affordable health insurance for small businesses was portrayed as a major advantage of the new health care law, mentioned often by White House officials and Democratic leaders in Congress as they fought opponents of the legislation. Supporters of the law said they were disappointed by the turn of events. The delay will “prolong and exacerbate health care costs that are crippling 29 million small businesses,” said Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana...The administration cited “operational challenges” as a reason for the delay.  

Here's the president explaining how fantastic this portion of his signature law would be in 2009: "If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you’ll be able to get coverage. We’ll do this by creating a new insurance exchange, a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices."  Now, not only has the small business marketplace been punted off to 2015, its "beneficiaries" will be limited to just one "option" -- rather than the array of competitive plans they were promised.  And along comes Mary Landrieu, the 60th vote for Obamacare, whinging about how it might "cripple" small businesses.  She knew all about the flaws embedded in this legislation, but being the reliable liberal foot soldier that she is, Landrieu cast the deciding vote in its favor.   She is up for re-election in Louisiana next year.  The "this is going to be great!" crowd hailed this particular feature of Obamacare as extremely beneficial to small businesses, many of which were strong critics of the legislation.  For reasons that are becoming more apparent every day, many of those businesses continue to oppose the law.  Philip Klein wonders if this false start is an omen of things to come:

The big question is whether this is a harbinger of more to come. In theory, there are supposed to be operational health insurance exchanges by Oct. 1, which will begin actually providing benefits on Jan. 1. Now that the federal government will have to run all or part of the exchanges in 33 states, it remains a big question whether health officials are going to be able to meet their deadlines. Something tells me we’ll be reading more stories like this in the coming months.  

Of course we will.  If you're keeping score at home, so far we've seen: Two unpopular and job-killing elements of the law repealed, with another one on the way out (driving up the price tag of the law in the process by eliminating fanciful "revenues), and now a popular component narrowed considerably and delayed.  And the "go" date is still ten months away.  This is why conservatives opposed Obamacare.  Not because it was this president's idea, not because we hate government, not because we don't want people to have healthcare -- but because the law is unaffordable, poorly thought-out, and logistically shambolic.  It will not help people the way we were told it would.  Conservatives favor limited government in principle, of course, but it's also a practical position.  Big, bloated government is limited in its capacity to do things properly, and when it bites off more than it can chew, we all suffer -- especially on something as personal, sensitive and important as healthcare.

UPDATE - Fresh bad news for people with pre-existing conditions -- whose plight, we were told, would be solved by the law signed three years ago.