ObamaCare's Indefinitely Extended Deadline

How the Obama administration is bypassing the the insurance sign-up cut-off date.

article-2579376-1C3B10C300000578-384_634x449The Obama administration's contempt for the rule of law has hit a new low. On Tuesday night, federal officials revealed that Americans who claim they have been unable to enroll in healthcare plans on the federal exchange will be granted an extension past the March 31 deadline. “We are . . . making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment — either online or over the phone,” said Julie Bataille, director of the office of communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). 

The move reeks of desperation. Once again, as the administration did for calculating premium subsidies based on one's income, no actual verification is necessary. People need only check a blue box on the HealthCare.gov website indicating that they tried to enroll before the deadline, and they will have until mid-April -- or perhaps longer -- to ask for an extension based on the "honor system." In other words, the government will make no effort whatsoever to determine if people are telling the truth. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is immune to the absurdity. "This is not an extension of open enrollment," she told Michigan Fox 2 yesterday. "It is just saying, like you do on election day, if you're in line to vote, we want to make sure you vote."

Of all the illegal and unconstitutional extensions implemented by the Obama administration, this one is the most egregious. Previously, when the president and his minions rewrote the bill passed by Congress, signed by the president and reverently described by Democrats and their media allies as the "law of the land," they cited the "statutory authority" to do so. 

This time they can't even hide behind that dubious facade. In a conference call with reporters on March 11, DHS officials insisted that March 31 was the hard deadline for ObamaCare enrollment. HHS official Julie Bataille took it one step further. "We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period," she promised. "In fact, we don't actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014." Michael Hash, who directs the Office of Health Reform at HHS, affirmed that statement, noting that the healthcare bill states that the HHS Secretary must set the deadline for open enrollment dates by June 2012. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did just that. "Once that 2014 open enrollment period has been set, they are set permanently," Hash declared.

Sebelius herself also confirmed that reality a day later. During a March 12 congressional hearing she told Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) that there would be no extensions. "Are you going to delay the open enrollment beyond March 31?" Brady asked. "No, sir," Sebelius replied.

Despite such transparent lying, the Washington Post was more than up to the task of attempting to give the administration wiggle room. "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 paper states. "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." 

So why would the administration need a "special enrollment period"? The implications are obvious: enrollment is nowhere near where the administration needs it to be. "I think success looks like at least 7 million people having signed up by the end of March 2014," Sebelius said during an NBC News interview on September 30, 2013. 

The administration soon backed off that number, and Vice President Joe Biden ratcheted it down even further last month. "We may not get to seven million, we may get to five or six, but that's a hell of a start," he said.

Yet even Joe's "hell of a start" is problematic. As the administration itself was forced to admit last week, at least 20 percent of so-called ObamaCare "enrollees" are people who haven't paid their insurance premiums. "We can point you to major insurers who have placed that figure at 80 percent, give-or-take, depending on the insurer, but we don't have specific data that is going to be in a reliable enough form to provide," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. The White House has repeated that mantra, claiming that they only have data about those selecting plans, because those enrolled are expected to pay insurance companies directly.

Two Republicans aren't buying it. On Tuesday, David Camp (R-MI) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) announced they have uncovered “new evidence” that “strongly suggests that the administration knows who has enrolled and paid their first month’s premium.” They cited CMS regulations that require insurance companies to inform the agency of  “the full enrollment and payment profile” for consumers on a month-to-month basis. A letter sent by Camp and Brady to Sebelius states, "On January 16, 2014, CMS posted a series of FAQs on the www.regtap.info portal. The portal is used by insurers to receive basic information about how to receive payments, what information is required of them and in what format, etc." Based on the requirements contained in those guidelines, Camp and Brady contend "there is specific information about who has paid their premium that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is collecting and using to make payments to insurers," and they "want this information in its most updated form immediately."

HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters indicated that HHS wouldn't comply. “As we have said previously, information about who has paid his or her premium is collected by individual issuers and is not reported to CMS directly by enrollees,” she contended. “Until the automated payment and reporting system is completed and fully tested, and CMS is able to access individual enrollment and payment information from individual 834 forms, the payment information that CMS receives from insurers is neither final nor complete. When we have accurate and reliable data regarding premium payments, we will make that information available.”

That in and of itself is a remarkable statement with respect to the 834 forms. Those are the forms that are supposed to be sent early each night from the federal exchange system to participating insurers, telling them who has signed up. In turn, insurers send each customer a bill, and those consumers have to pay their first month's premium before coverage begins. The error rate, which had been as high as 25 percent last November, has ostensibly been reduced to 10 percent. Yet now the administration is admitting that the system has neither been completed nor tested. If that's the case, how is it that the administration can give out any reliable numbers, even those regarding signups?

Yet the administration has done just that, contending that 5.2 million Americans have signed up for the plan as of the middle of March. Thus it appears Sebelius and/or Peters is lying. Camp and Brady believe it is Sebelius, who they accuse of giving "evasive and perhaps misleading" testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee on March 14.

So what? Sebelius is hardly the first Obama administration official to do that, and there have been no consequences whatsoever for any of them. Thus, when Peters insists the elimination of the deadline is due to a "surge in demand," all we get from Republicans such as John Boehner (R-OH) are complaints, absent any threat of concrete action. “The dates are the dates, and the law is the law,” Boehner groused. “The president doesn’t have the authority to change the law whenever he wants, which he continues to do.”

With impunity. A CMS source has told the Daily Mail there is no set date for the extended deadline, and the Washington Post insists that even if people can no longer get extensions through the HealthCare.gov website, "consumers will be able to request one through one of the federally sponsored call centers nationwide." Comically, the paper further notes that the grounds for granting such an extension "will become narrower, matching rules for special enrollment periods that have existed for the past few months." 

Sure they will -- unless there’s another “fix” implemented, any time the administration decides to do it. Obama and company have made it clear there are no aspects of this law that are above manipulation.

In the ultimate testimony to Democratic arrogance, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to shift the blame for the law's disastrous rollout onto the American public, "because people are not educated on how to use the Internet.” 

And so it goes for a Democratic Party and an Obama administration for whom the rule of law has become little more than what they say it is, until it must be changed for nothing more than political expediency. In reality there is only one "law" to which the American left religiously adheres: by any means necessary. Whether our democratic republic can survive three more years of such overt contempt remains to be seen. We are truly in uncharted waters.

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