Goldberg wonders when insurers will fight back

Jonah Goldberg‘s latest column ponders the predicament of insurers who have been forced to cope with the well-documented downside of Obamacare’s implementation.

[I]t’s hard not to wonder how much more these people are willing to take. Even an obedient dog will bite if you kick it enough. Since Obamacare’s passage, the administration has constantly moved the goalposts on the industry. For instance, when the small-business mandate proved problematic in an election year, the administration delayed it, putting its partisan political needs ahead of its own policy and the needs of the industry.

But the insurers kept their eyes on the prize: huge guaranteed profits stemming from the diktat of the health-insurance mandate. When asked how he silenced opponents in the health industry during his successful effort to socialize medicine, Aneurin Bevan, creator of the British National Health Service, responded, “I stuffed their mouths with gold.”

Hence, the insurers were ready on October 1. They rejiggered their industry. They sent out millions of cancellation letters to customers whose plans no longer qualified under the new standards set by the Affordable Care Act. They told their customers to go to the exchanges to get their new plans.

But because President Obama promised Americans “if you like your health-care plan, you can keep it” (PolitiFact’s “lie of the year”), those cancellations became a political problem of Obama’s own making.

In response, the president blamed it on the insurance companies or “bad apple” insurers. White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted that it was the insurance companies that unilaterally decided not to grandfather existing plans. (The Washington Post’s “fact checker” columnist, Glenn Kessler, gave this claim “three Pinocchios.”)

Then, just last week, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that she was “urging” insurers to ignore both their contracts and the law and simply cover people on the honor system — as if they were enrolled and paid up. She also wants doctors and hospitals to take patients, regardless of whether they are in a patient’s insurance network or even if the patient is properly insured at all. Just go ahead and extend the deadline for paying, she urged insurers; we’ll work out the paperwork later.

Of course, urging isn’t forcing. But as Avik Roy of Forbes notes, the difference is subtle. HHS also announced last week that it will consider compliance with its suggestions when determining which plans to allow on the exchanges next year. A request from HHS is like being asked a “favor” by the Godfather; compliance is less than voluntary.

The irony, as Christopher DeMuth recently noted in The Weekly Standard, is that if the architects of Obamacare had their way, the insurers would have been in even worse shape today.

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