By Ken Shepherd
“More time for health sign-up” cheered the Washington Post front-page headline for Amy Goldstein’s March 26 story on the administration’s latest ObamaCare delay, this time for the individual mandate which requires Americans to be insured so as to avoid paying a “tax” penalty. In an amazing dereliction of her journalistic duty, Goldstein utterly failed to mention that just two weeks earlier HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified to Congress that, in fact, the March 31 sign-up deadline was not going to move.
Goldstein, of course, was too busy parroting the administration’s talking points and turning to supposedly non-ideological “consumer advocates” who hailed the deadline extension (emphasis mine):
The Obama administration has decided to give extra time to Americans who say that they are unable to enroll in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace by the March 31 deadline.
Federal officials confirmed Tuesday evening that all consumers who have begun to apply for coverage on HealthCare.gov, but who do not finish by Monday, will have until about mid-April to ask for an extension.
Under the new rules, people will be able to qualify for an extension by checking a blue box on HealthCare.gov to indicate that they tried to enroll before the deadline. This method will rely on an honor system; the government will not try to determine whether the person is telling the truth.
The rules, which will apply to the federal exchanges operating in three dozen states, will essentially create a large loophole even as White House officials have repeatedly said that the March 31 deadline was firm. The extra time will not technically alter the deadline but will create a broad new category of people eligible for what’s known as a special enrollment period.
The change, which the administration is scheduled to announce Wednesday, is supported by consumer advocates who want as many people as possible to gain insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But it’s likely to be criticized by Republicans who oppose the law and have denounced the way the administration is implementing it.
According to a Health and Human Services official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about decisions that have not been made public, an exact time frame for this extension has not been set, and it will depend in part on how many people request it. Nor have officials decided precisely how long people will have to select a health plan after they get the extra time.
The constituency that has been most wary of extra sign-up time has been the insurance industry. Insurance firms selling plans in the new marketplace want to minimize the possibility that people might wait to get coverage until they become sick — a practice that would undermine the central idea of keeping costs in check by balancing people who are expensive to insure with those who are healthy and require little medical treatment.
On the other hand, consumer advocates say it is important to give as many people as possible a chance to obtain insurance.
“The whole point of the thing is to get people covered,” said Jon Kingsdale, a health-care consultant and former director of Massachusetts’s insurance exchange, which was the first in the country, opening several years before the federal law set up a similar national marketplace. “In the first year, there has been so much confusion, I think it’s only natural there will be people who just don’t feel as if they fully understood what the law was and what they were supposed to do and that the opportunity would close.”
Nowhere in her piece does Goldstein have any curiosity about what statutory authority the HHS has, if any, to grant this delay, nor does she wonder about the disparate impact which may befall Americans whereby some might be fined for not having obtained coverage by April 1 — because they live in states with state-run exchanges which are adhering to the deadline — and those who live in states lacking a state exchange and hence are given a reprieve thanks to the federal extension.
Over at the New York Times, writer Robert Pear had a similarly obsequious work of stenography with his front-page 16-paragraph story “U.S. to Extend Sign-Up Period for Insurance.”Like the Post’s Goldstein, Pear failed to mention Sebelius’s insistence on March 12 that the March 31 deadline was set in stone, although he did mention that the HHS head “has said repeatedly that the federal website has been repaired and is ready to handle a surge of applications expected just before the deadline.”
But alas, “White House officials and some technology experts working on the exchange began to worry that the website might freeze up if the demand exceeded expectations,” Pear noted, adding later that such website snafus “could create a political fiasco for Mr. Obama and other Democrats, just as they were recovering from the damage done when the site left millions of Americans frustrated in October.”
Well, that makes amending the law by administrative fiat on a whim perfectly kosher then!
Like Goldstein, Pear opted to close his story with a cheerleader for the latest ObamaCare delay, noting one Brian Haile of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service who “said the new special enrollment period was ‘a win for uninsured Americans'” because, apparently, “[t]axpayers are more willing and able to sign up as they receive tax refunds.”
Perhaps the president and his congressional allies should have thought of that when they crafted the deadline in the first place, synchronizing it with April 15, the federal tax filing deadline, rather than falling a fortnight earlier.
At any rate, it’s abundantly clear that both the Times and the Post have little if any interest in holding the Obama administration accountable for its ongoing project of furiously revising the ACA on the fly with ad-hoc rule changes and deadline shifts of dubious legality.
Editor’s note. This appeared at newsbusters.org.