The Obama administration announced today that it would delay the start of next year’s Obamacare open enrollment by one month, from October 15, 2014 to November 15, 2014—coincidentally shifting the event from two weeks before the 2014 midterm elections to two weeks after. But if the president is so confident that the controversial health care law will begin to function effectively, why would he feel the compulsion to delay?
A reason for this delay, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, is that it will provide "the benefit of more time to evaluate [customers’] experiences during the 2014 plan year" and leave room for more young people to sign up. Healthy people between ages 20 and 30 are a crucial part of ensuring premiums do not give way to a death spiral. HHS would also like to allow insurers more time to find a way to bring down premiums, which were supposed to decrease due to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act but in many cases have escalated.
For anyone with an eye on the myriad congressional races in 2014, this move is an obvious attempt to avoid political repercussions from the ongoing failures that have characterized Obamacare’s rollout. The past few weeks have been awful for the White House and the president's party, and many dissenters are trying to put distance between themselves and Obamacare. Similar events in 2014 just weeks before the election would be disastrous for Democrats anxious to achieve parity in the House and retain a majority in the Senate. The start of open enrollment could mean that Americans may see another round of increases in their insurance costs or even another wave of policy cancellations.
“Another day, another delay, which begs the question, does the president think enrollment will be just as bad next year?” wondered Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is a congressional check on HHS. Will President Obama stand by his signature legislation or does he now see it as a political liability? It's not clear that one additional month would make a huge difference and buy considerable time for improvement. Is he interested in seeing his health care reforms passed and protecting the millions of uninsured, or is he more concerned with keeping his party in power? For a president who so frequently urges shared responsibility and sacrifice, perhaps Obama should be willing to take a political loss in exchange for the “greater good”?