(Bloomberg) — When Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, said earlier this month that there would be no more delays of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, perhaps you naively thought that this meant that open enrollment would close on March 31 and anyone who didn’t have health insurance by then would be, well, subject to the individual mandate.
No, no, don’t chide yourself — that’s also what I thought, and I’m so cynical that lemons pucker up when they look at me.
As you have probably already heard, the administration is going to allow people to sign up for Obamacare after the end of open enrollment if they were genuinely unable to register during the six-month period. And how will the administration be able to tell that applicants were genuinely unable to register? The applicants will check a box on the website, saying so.
In other words, they’re delaying the individual mandate, but not calling it a delay of the individual mandate.
It is, to be fair, not a very long delay — only until mid- April. But given the administration’s record, I wouldn’t bet on this being the last one.
And now onward to the really important question: What does it all mean? Unfortunately, I’m not sure I know the answer. I find this latest move deeply puzzling.
For starters, total enrollment numbers aren’t as bad as they could be. On March 17, the administration announced that 5 million people had selected an exchange plan. That seemed to indicate that the daily pace of signups was quickening from January and February.
If March monthly signups end up in the neighborhood of December’s, then they could get pretty close to the 6 million total the Congressional Budget Office was projecting. As I noted earlier today, that would involve a bit of fudging, because a lot of people haven’t paid for their policies and thus don’t actually count as being insured through the exchanges. But it would be close enough that the administration could claim victory.
So why the delay? I can come up with a few explanations.