I predict Democrats in the House and Senate will force President Obama to stop canceling insurance policies and restore those he has already caused insurance companies to cancel. The party simply cannot go into the next election with tens of millions of voters angry with its members for costing them their health insurance. After the president made “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan” the signature statement of his administration’s policy, these cancellations carry too big a political price for his party to bear.
Which congressman can face his district having voted for legislation that’s canceled the health insurance that protected 100,000 of his constituents? The pretense that the new policies on the exchanges will be better and cheaper than the policies voters already had will have been exposed as a lie by election time, and the congressman will face a very difficult road to reelection.
To roll back the cancellations and to prevent future terminations would require no statutory amendment of the healthcare reform legislation. For both individuals and employers, the Affordable Care Act provides that policies in force before February 2010 will be grandfathered in and accepted even if they fall short of the exalted requirements of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulators.
The cancellations stem not from anything in the law itself but from regulations adopted by the Health Department after its passage — and never affirmed by Congress. These administrative fiats preclude grandfathering in any policies that have been changed, in any way, since February 2010. Any change in premiums, deductibles, coverage, eligibility and so forth triggers the termination of the policy unless it is fully in conformity with ObamaCare standards.
Democrats will argue that they never intended for the grandfathering clause to be waived so easily. They will argue that they inserted the provision precisely to permit the president to claim that “if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan.” They will say that they were never consulted on the HHS regulation that effectively vitiates the grandfathering provision and will demand its repeal.
The president, with his personal credibility at stake, will have to give in and void the HHS regulation. He cannot afford to have his legacy become one of a big lie that impacts tens of millions of Americans.
What happens then?
Without the cascade of new ObamaCare enrollments that would be generated by a stream of cancellations of current coverage, the enrollment statistics for ObamaCare will be pathetic. They will be a national joke, much as the glitches in the enrollment process itself has turned out to be.
State statistics indicate that between 65 percent and 85 percent of the enrollments have been in traditional Medicaid (two-thirds under the new eligibility and one-third under the old standards). The number of ObamaCare enrollments is miniscule.
People will soon learn that the fines for not having insurance are nominal — $95 is enough for a nice dinner and a movie, not a significant enough threat to force a single person to buy a policy that might cost him the equivalent of a car ($300/month). Nor will the threatened escalation of the fine in the out years to $250 do much to frighten people and cause them to enroll and pay a multiple of that sum for insurance they neither need nor want.
Obviously, Congress will never raise the penalties and the IRS will do little to enforce them. The individual mandate will become a national farce.
And so ObamaCare will likely have all of three or four million participants — if that! It will be dwarfed by the 100 million on Medicaid or the 170 million with individual- or employer-based insurance.
That level of participation will never justify the administrative superstructure that has been created to run it. ObamaCare will fade into oblivion as a token program, the penalty for giving a party that nobody attended.
Morris, who served as adviser to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.