At 11th Hour, Obama Eases Health Care Mandate

People who lost policies can claim hardship exemption

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 20, 2013 7:16 AM CST | Updated Dec 20, 2013 7:56 AM CST

(Newser) – In a surprise move, the Obama administration essentially lifted the individual mandate last night for anyone who saw their insurance policy cancelled thanks to the Affordable Care Act, just days before the Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for Jan. 1 coverage. These consumers will be able to apply for a hardship exemption if they think the plans on the government-run exchanges are too expensive, allowing them to buy bare-bones "catastrophic" coverage instead, or simply duck the requirement entirely, the Washington Post reports.

  • The change is a response to pressure from a dozen Democratic senators, most facing tough reelection campaigns, who said the administration hadn't done enough to help people bitten by the law. They issued a statement last night saying they were pleased, but would "closely monitor how the administration implements this option."
  • Marco Rubio, meanwhile, took the chance to gloat, saying the administration was "recognizing the grim reality that more Americans have lost health insurance than gained it," Politico reports.
  • The administration actually believes that there are fewer than 500,000 people who lost coverage and haven't signed up for new plans yet, though officials admit that's just their best guess.
  • Insurance companies are furious. "This latest rule change could cause significant instability," one industry group told the New York Times, while an anonymous official tells the Post that they're worried people with exemptions will wait until they get sick to sign up.
  • Many insurers were already having trouble getting people on board before the deadline, the Wall Street Journal reported today. "We've had some people telling us it's too close to the holidays," one official said.
  • The move came a day after insurers agreed—thanks to administration pressure—to push back the deadline for customers to pay their first premium to Jan. 10, the Huffington Post reports. They have, however, rebuffed the administration's request that they in January cover drugs that they don't cover, but that may have been covered under a consumer's previous plan.

The HealthCare.gov website's rocky launch has been a black eye for the Affordable Care Act.
The HealthCare.gov website's rocky launch has been a black eye for the Affordable Care Act.   (AP Photo/Jon Elswick, File)
In this Dec. 4, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks about the new health care law during a White House Youth Summit.
In this Dec. 4, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks about the new health care law during a White House Youth Summit.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
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