- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2013

President Obama has granted yet another part of his health care law a delay, quietly announcing a one-year grace period before imposing a strict limit on consumers’ out-of-pocket medical expenses.

The delay means some health care plans in the group market will have until 2015 to begin paying for all expenses exceeding $6,350 for an individual’s out-of-pocket spending, or $12,700 for a family.

Language on the delay has been posted on the Labor Department’s website since February, but it did not surface in the political arena until The New York Times reported on it Tuesday.


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Mr. Obama used the limits as a key selling point when he pushed the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010. Now, Republicans are using the delay as part of last-ditch bids to dismantle the law before key implementation dates this fall.

“Burying this announcement online in a ‘maze of legal and bureaucratic language’ shows little concern for the promises with which this law was sold,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, borrowing language from the Times article. “What else in the law isn’t working that we don’t yet know about?”

The Obama administration also announced in a pre-July Fourth blog posting that it was delaying the mandate that requires employers with at least 50 full-time employees to provide them with health care coverage.

For the Obama administration, the setbacks are ill-timed and leave officials trying to convince consumers that the delays don’t signal an inability to carry out other parts of the law.

Erin Shields Britt, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the health care law is still implementing historic consumer protections from “the worst insurance company abuses, by banning discrimination based on pre-existing health conditions, ending lifetime and annual limits on what an insurance company will cover, and capping out-of pocket spending to protect Americans and their families.”

“The February guidance builds on these landmark consumer protections by requiring that health plans limit out-of-pocket spending for major medical coverage for the first time, in 2014, on time,” she said. “This single limit will apply to additional benefits in 2015.”

The newly reported delay arose because some employers and insurers use separate companies to administer major-medical coverage and drug benefits, resulting in separate out-of-pocket limits.

Because of this fractured landscape, parties needed time to streamline their data systems. The rule says that, for the first plan year after Jan. 1, 2014, the annual limit on out-of-pocket expenses will be satisfied if a group health plan that uses more than one service provider complies with the cap on major medical coverage and maintains a similar cap on the non-major medical coverage.

Even as it delays some parts, the administration has said the individual mandate requiring most Americans to have coverage remains in effect. Officials also are working feverishly to implement by Oct. 1 state-by-state health care exchanges where those without employer-based coverage can buy insurance with the help of tax credits.

A recent inspector general report suggested that Health and Human Services is months behind in setting up the federal data hub that will allow federal and state agencies to synchronize information about consumers on the exchanges.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, wrote to the Obama administration Monday to suggest that it delay the rollout of the exchanges.

Conservative lawmakers are waging a rhetorical war against Obamacare ahead of a spending showdown on Capitol Hill in September.

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