The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is leaning on insurers to help it out of its own Obamacare debacle, urging for-profit coverage providers to begin covering enrolled customers when Jan. 1 rolls around, even if those customers haven’t paid their first premium.
There’s a reason for that — though it’s not a good one. In order for customers to pay for something they buy online, they first have to be able to use a website that offers them a payment mechanism. HHS still has not been able, with any consistency, to nail down that part of the Healthcare.gov website infrastructure that’s supposed to send would-be enrollees to the final-step pages where they pay their insurers directly.
Some customers believe they have paid — and maybe they have — while others can’t get that far into the enrollment process because the website crashes or locks them out. Still others believe they have enrolled in, and attempted to pay for, one kind of insurance — when, in fact, the website instead magically enrolls them in, and bills them for, a different plan.
“What’s wrong with ‘urging’ insurers to offer free care?” Forbes contributor Avik Roy wrote over the weekend. “That’s not the same as forcing them to offer free care.”
Except that the government is using the full force of its regulatory powers, under Obamacare, to threaten insurers if they don’t comply. All you have to do is read the menacing language in the new regulations that HHS published this week, in which HHS says it may throw otherwise qualified health plans off of the exchanges next year if they don’t comply with the government’s “requests.”
The government is requiring people to get on health insurance. It has set enrollment deadlines. But if you can’t pay, you can’t be enrolled. And if the Federal website that Obamacare’s implementation team has set up to allow people to sign up and pay for insurance isn’t working, there’s no way for people to pay for a health plan — if they’re fortunate enough to make it that far into the glitchy process. The law obligates people to buy insurance, but the lawmakers who’ve so encumbered their constituents make no accommodation to facilitate a timely compliance with the law.
And since, under the Obamacare scheme, the government is just a go-between that passes customer enrollment through to the private insurers (whom customers must ultimately pay), it lacks the free-market compulsion that drives private businesses to avoid, by any legal means, losing money. So HHS sends out emails to the insurance companies “urging” them to give customers who can’t use the broken Federal website a break.
In short, the government breaks it — and then asks the private sector to fix it at its own expense.