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Editorial: Obamacare deadline here(ish)

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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Last week, the Obama administration announced that the deadline for individual to sign up for health care via the federal health exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act would be extended from the original date of March 31 to early April, despite its previous insistence that the end of March would be the “last call” for prospective insurance buyers.

It is important, though, to note that the deadline extension only applies to individuals who have already begun to apply for insurance before March 31 and feel they need to ask for an extension. For Iowans looking to buy coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchange, today is your last chance to act. We encourage eligible uninsured Iowans to capitalize on the latest ACA delay and get covered.

Predictably, this most recent delay was met with blistering criticism by congressional Republicans and other conservatives whose attitude toward the law resembles that of a rabid dog toward a piece of red meat. Speaker of the House John Boehner opined, “What the hell is this? A joke? Another deadline made meaningless. If he hasn’t put enough loopholes in the law already, the administration is now resorting to an honor system to enforce it.”

Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer proposed that the delay amounted to “cynicism raised to the level of comedy.”

It is our view that this delay does not constitute proof of an inherently failed and disastrous experiment in public policy but rather showcases an administration willing to be flexible on a massive new program in the American landscape that is so gargantuan in scale as to require a certain degree of maneuvering in policy discussions.

Right now, the White House estimates that around 6 million Americans have signed up for health care through the federal health exchanges, and the demand has apparently been high enough that the U.S. government is simply having a hard time meeting it on time. As Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency charged with running the federal exchange, put it, “We are working hard to ensure that our systems can handle the unprecedented demand as people enroll before the March 31 deadline.”

That may be a conveniently positive message from the Obama administration, but it’s clear that enrollment has been more or less on pace since the disastrous introduction of the Healthcare.gov last year, at least on a national level. Enrollment has matched projections by the Congressional Budget Office, but it is still short of the administration’s original goal of 7 million newly insured.

In evaluating the relative health of new insurance markets, however, it’s important to look at enrollment at the state level. According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of March 1, 15,346 people had selected a plan from the federal insurance marketplace, less than half of the total number of people deemed eligible to enroll in a marketplace plan by the agency.

Enrollment has been growing as the deadline approaches, and March has undoubtedly lifted the number of enrollees in Iowa, but to ensure a healthy statewide insurance market and a fully insured population, we encourage Iowans without health insurance to take advantage of the last day of unrestricted enrollment and to choose a plan.


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