The next major deadline for the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) approaches this week amid widespread confusion. March 31st marks the end of the “open enrollment” period for the government run health care exchanges and the point by which individual citizens will have to be able to demonstrate that they possess sufficient coverage to avoid financial penalties. This is more commonly known as the “individual mandate” and is one of the most controversial features of ObamaCare. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. The decision was a strange alliance of the liberal members of the Court and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.
The decision authored by Roberts concluded that the individual mandate was legal under the Constitution as it fell under Congress’ power to lay taxes. This too was interesting as the argument advanced by the Obama Administration was that the ObamaCare individual mandate was not a tax at all, just a fee, and that it was legal because it was a regulatory function that fell under the Commerce Clause. Roberts rejected this argument, saying that imposing such a fee is not related to the Commerce Clause, but instead that the fee amounted to a tax, and thus was legal on those grounds. The Obama Administration continues to deny that the individual mandate is a tax, but has gone forward with the implementation of ObamaCare based on this Supreme Court decision.
So as the deadline for the ObamaCare individual mandate approaches, more confusion continues to exist about what it means and who it applies to. According to Politico, there have already been ten major delays and postponements made to various aspects of the implementation of ObamaCare. Many of these delays have been in regards to requirements on businesses, or related to the technical difficulties that have plagued the official ObamaCare website and the various state exchanges. Conservative critics of ObamaCare contend that the administration does not have the authority to change these deadlines unilaterally and that they prove that ObamaCare itself is impractical.
The latest change states that individuals who attempted to sign up before the March 31st deadline, but were unable to do so, will still be allowed to sign up after they deadline. They will just need to indicate during the sign up process that they tried to do so in the past, but could not. This is designed to address the ongoing technical problems associated with ObamaCare websites. Many individuals are still reporting errors and incomplete forms preventing them from completing the process. Conservative critics point out that this extension is based entirely on an “honor system” of sorts. The website simply asks visitors to click a “check box” indicating they had attempted to sign up in the past. No verification of such an attempt is required in order to obtain the extension. The Obama Administration contends that the March 31st deadline remains firm, but this exemption has the potential to create a large category of citizens who may enroll past this date.
This confusion has led some states to take more direct measures in order to protect their citizens from the potential financial penalties associated with ObamaCare. Maryland and Connecticut have both built their own health insurance exchanges separate from the federally run systems in order to try and create more stable platforms for their citizens to obtain coverage. Connecticut is still far behind its enrollment goals despite this change however, and other states such as Oregon are experiencing even more significant shortfalls in enrollment. The most significant ObamaCare deadline approaches amid widespread confusion.
By Christopher V. Spencer