The Department of Health and Human Services released a seven page bulletin Wednesday announcing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ decision to extend the transitional policy of the Affordable Care Act by two years, to Oct. 1, 2016.
Effectively, this makes the individual mandate — the requirement that all individuals purchase insurance by the end of March or face a tax penalty — considered by many to be the backbone of the Affordable Care Act, an option one can opt out of rather than a requirement.
The transitional policy allows for hardship exemption from the tax penalty if an individual can’t afford to sign up for coverage. Previously, exemptions were only offered in extreme cases — such as bankruptcy, eviction, or homelessness — and required documentation, while the current language allows users to seek exemption if they “consider other available policies unaffordable” or if they “experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance,” and only requires “documentation if possible.”
Critics claim the individual mandate was “the core” of ObamaCare, citing the insurance industry’s concern that it would only be able to afford to insure the elderly and those with preexisting conditions if the individual mandate forced millions of healthy young Americans to pay for policies as well.
The Wall Street Journal says, “our sources in the insurance industry are worried the regulatory loophole sets a mandate non-enforcement precedent, and they’re probably right. The longer it is not enforced, the less likely any President will enforce it.” This concern comes in the same week Congress attempted to pass a bill that would allow them to sue the president for not enforcing the law.
Whether the loosening of the individual mandate actually belies the end of ObamaCare or simply makes the Affordable Care Act more compassionate to those who can’t afford care remains to be seen.