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November 22, 2013 11:53 AM The 2014 Obamacare Enrollment Delay

By Ed Kilgore

Republicans are already screaming bloody murder about the reported plans of the Obama administration to delay the beginning of the second open enrollment period for accessing insurance through the federally-run exchanges from October 15, 2014 until November 15, 2014, arguing, of course, that it’s politically motivated. WaPo’s Sarah Kliff has a much calmer take:

There is both a political story and a policy story going on here. The political story is one about shifting open enrollment until after Election Day, meaning that many shoppers won’t get their first peak at 2015 premiums until after they head to the voting booth. The whole idea with an Oct. 15 open enrollment start was to align the exchange open enrollment period with Medicare’s open enrollment period. That won’t be happening anymore.
There’s also a policy story. One longstanding complaint from insurers has been they’d have to set rates for 2015 by the start of April. With open enrollment ending on March 31, it’d be really difficult to know how sick of a group they got—and how they should factor that into next year’s rates. What this decision also does, then is shift the deadline back from April to May for when insurance companies need to file their rates. That gives them an extra month to crunch the numbers on who bought their products.

So insurers whose cooperation is necessary to make the exchanges work are demanding a change which exposes the administration to charges of political chicanery. So it goes.

But the idea that the 2014 elections are going to be significantly influenced by exchange premium rates next fall strikes me as questionable. We’re talking about a relatively small number of people who are really vulnerable to “rate shock,” if it occurs, and we’re also assuming voters will not have already made up their minds one way or another about Obamacare by then. And what if consumers are pleasantly surprised by the next round of premiums? Won’t the Obama administration have sacrificed a political opportunity by delaying the enrollment period? And in any event, if it’s politics rather than assuaging insurers that is motivating this step, why announce it now, so far in advance?

Well, you can’t take the politics out of politics, and if the administration is going to be suspected of “playing politics” in its Obamacare decisions, it’s certain far beyond suspicion that the GOP’s reaction will have nothing to do with substance, unless it’s a sheer coincidence.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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