Is Obamacare Repealing Itself? Don’t Bet On It

by John R. Graham

Last week, we learned that Jay Angoff, the Obamacrat in charge of regulating private health insurance, has decided to allow health plans to underwrite (that is, charge actuarially fair premiums) for child-only policies. This, of course, is in response to the fact that insurers have pretty much stopped writing such policies since the first wave of Obamaregs swept over private health insurance on September 23.

We also recently learned that Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, has granted waivers allowing employers of an estimated one million (largely low-income) workers a year to comply with the new Obamaregs. This resulted from a spate of reports of those employers dropping coverage entirely.

On top of this, there’s the slow-burning issue of Medical Loss Ratios. Obamacare will dictate a Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) of either 85 percent or 80 percent (depending on the size of the plan), a regulation that will drive many carriers out of the market, reducing employers’ and individuals’ choices. (Conceptually, the MLR is the share of a health plan’s premium revenue that is spent on medical claims, but the actual calculation can be very complex.) State Insurance Commissioners have been warning the Obamacrats about this outcome, so the Department of Health and Human Services has decided to allow the National Association of Insurance Commissioners “flexibility” with respect to the MLR.

Secretary Sebelius’ backpedaling invites a serious question: Is Obamacare repealing itself? At the rate they’re going, the Obamacrats might well restore seniors’ Medicare Advantage plans before Christmas! Unfortunately not. Although Secretary Sebelius is making reasonable adjustments to Obamacare’s most immediately harmful provisions, there are two reasons why Obamacare’s opponents should not cheer these developments too loudly.

First, they illustrate the most heinous characteristic of Obamacare: the grant of arbitrary power to unaccountable bureaucrats who can change the rules in response to their own preferences or the opaque influence of favored interests. In this respect, Obamacare is the opposite of a classically understood “Law,” which constrains arbitrary government power.

Second, it is not remotely plausible that these changes are good-faith responses to the problems of Obamacare. Instead, they are a political response to public-opinion polls, businesses’ credible threats to drop coverage, and seniors’ nervousness about Obamacare’s half-a-trillion dollars in Medicare cuts. In advance of an election that is likely to be a catastrophe for the president, Secretary Sebelius is merely buying some time, hoping that the repeal-bandwagon will lose some momentum if she grants short-term relief.

Don’t be fooled: President Obama and Secretary Sebelius want to eliminate private choice of health insurance in favor of a government monopoly. (For evidence, see here and here.) If advocates of repeal fail to succeed by January 2013, Secretary Sebelius will surely sweep away all of her short-term waivers with a vengeance.

Critical Condition

NRO’s health-care blog.