ObamaCare’s Shrinking Geography

Reform: Probably hoping no one would notice, regulators late last week exempted from ObamaCare five U.S. territories where it was failing. Will they do the same once it’s obvious ObamaCare is failing everywhere else?

When the geniuses in Congress and the White House were writing the ObamaCare legislation, they made a slight mistake. The law imposed ObamaCare’s guaranteed issue and community rating insurance mandates on the five territories — which have a combined population of more than 4 million — but it exempted them from the individual mandate and didn’t offer any subsidies.

Not surprisingly, the insurance markets quickly collapsed in Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands, just like health officials there said would happen.

Until last week, the administration claimed there was nothing it could do. A year ago, in fact, they told the territories that, while the law might have been badly written, it’s the law. The HHS “does not have the authority” to fix the problem.

Then higher ups at the White House recalled that, when it comes to ObamaCare, “the law means just what they choose it to mean — neither more nor less” (to paraphrase “Alice in Wonderland’s” Humpty Dumpty).

The press and the administration tried to downplay the latest change as simply responding to the unique circumstances the law unintentionally created. But the problems plaguing the territories will eventually show up in the states as well.

Even where it applies, for example, the individual mandate is easily avoidable. As we’ve noted, huge swaths are automatically exempt, and individuals can easily claim a hardship exemption if they don’t want to buy insurance or pay the penalty.

Plus, the mandate penalty is unenforceable. If people don’t pay it, the IRS is mostly powerless to collect it.

And unless Obama unilaterally rewrites another part of the law, the cost of insurance will soon outstrip government subsidies meant to keep it affordable. The law caps the total amount of insurance subsidy payments after 2018 to artificially hold ObamaCare’s costs down.

So rather than a fast implosion of the insurance market, it will be more like an expanding sinkhole. Insurance rates will climb year after year as the young and healthy abandon the market, causing still more cancellations and a resulting insurance pool that is increasingly sicker, more expensive and less stable.

Already there’s talk of higher premiums next year, as insurers look at the cost to cover those who signed up this year, plus the costs involved to comply with Obama-Care’s myriad benefit mandates, regulations and taxes.

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