- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2015

The administration is herding last-minute Obamacare shoppers into HealthCare.gov before Sunday’s deadline to get insured, even as a looming Supreme Court decision could make that coverage unaffordable for many of them before the year’s end.

Health care reform advocates aren’t warning customers about the pivotal case, which could take away subsidies for millions of customers in 34 states that rely on the federal exchange, throwing the law into chaos with no clear exit strategy from the White House or Republican leaders who refused to set up exchange in their states.

Health and Human Services Department officials say enrollment is accelerating ahead of the deadline, with nearly 276,000 people signing up on HealthCare.gov during the week that ended Feb. 6, compared with about 180,000 in the prior week.

Frequent HealthCare.gov alerts remind customers about financial help on the marketplace, and President Obama piled on Thursday with an Internet video that features him fine-tuning his health care pitch in the mirror.

“In many cases, you can get health insurance for less than $100 a month,” he says in the clip on Buzzfeed.com. “Just go to HealthCare.gov to figure out how to sign up.”

Yet his administration has refused to say whether it has a backup plan in case a majority of the justices decide that the IRS has been unlawfully paying out the premium tax credits to customers on the federal exchange.

The case, King v. Burwell, could cause more than four out of five enrollees on the federal exchange to lose the taxpayer-funded subsidies that pay for most of their monthly premiums. Without the subsidies, many federal exchange enrollees would drop coverage, seriously denting the fragile economics of Obamacare.

“Most people simply aren’t closely following the political and legal controversies happening in Washington. In fact, many people still don’t even know that financial help is available,” said Drew Dupuy, a spokesman for Enroll America, a pro-Obamacare nonprofit.

Should the court rule against the administration, it will send Mr. Obama scrambling, but it also will focus attention on the states that didn’t create their own exchanges, helping leave their residents vulnerable.

In Florida alone, subsidies could vanish for more than 1 million people because Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and the Legislature opted not to set up an exchange.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, a Republican who chairs a committee on health care policy, said there is no appetite in Tallahassee to set up a state-run exchange and insulate those customers from the King case. He wants the court challenge to succeed.

“I’m optimistic that the King decision will spark Republicans into coming up with a new plan that hopefully will be better than Obamacare,” Mr. Bean said. “More choice, more competition, more transparency.”

Elsewhere, the King case could affect over 830,000 HealthCare.gov customers in Texas and roughly 440,000 in North Carolina, based on the HHS plan selection and subsidy data through Jan. 30.

In New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie twice vetoed bills to establish a state-run exchange, at least 180,000 have qualified for the subsidies, although most do not seem to be thinking about the King case.

“I don’t think most consumers have connected the dots yet,” said Maura Collinsgru, who promotes enrollment through New Jersey Citizens Action, a consumer advocacy group.

State Sen. Nia H. Gill, a Democrat who sponsored legislation to set up a state-run exchange in 2012, is leading a task force that could pressure Mr. Christie — a potential contender for president — to reconsider the Garden State’s marketplace options if the justices strike down the subsidies.

Mr. Christie’s office declined to comment on whether it is preparing for the ruling or forging a backup plan.

“Now that it has taken this turn,” Ms. Gill said, “if his national Republican politics are still adhered to, it will be disastrous to the state of New Jersey.”

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