Website Flaws Might Exempt Some from Obamacare Penalties

White House spokesman won’t answer directly but the law gives HHS broad discretion decide what factors may apply in considering the exemption.

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange internet site October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Catherine Hollander
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Catherine Hollander
Oct. 22, 2013, 9:13 a.m.

White House Press Sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney says that Obama­care won’t fin­an­cially pen­al­ize Amer­ic­ans who “do not have ac­cess” to af­ford­able health cov­er­age by the March 31 dead­line for ob­tain­ing it.

Car­ney re­peated a ver­sion of the fol­low­ing state­ment mul­tiple times in Monday’s brief­ing with re­port­ers: “As writ­ten, the law makes clear that people who do not have ac­cess to af­ford­able care due to a state not ex­pand­ing Medi­caid or oth­er factors will not be pen­al­ized.”

He de­clined to cla­ri­fy wheth­er the glitches plaguing Health­Care.gov, home of the fed­er­al in­sur­ance mar­ket­place, qual­i­fy as “oth­er factors.” But the law gives the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­ret­ary broad dis­cre­tion to de­cide what those factors are, and wouldn’t pre­vent her from count­ing in­ab­il­ity to sign up on­line among them.

Cur­rently, the Af­ford­able Care Act of­fers ex­cep­tions to the pen­alty for re­li­gious reas­ons, in­car­cer­a­tion and for be­ing a mem­ber of a fed­er­ally re­cog­nized tribe. (The IRS has a more com­plete list here).

HHS has also out­lined a num­ber of sep­ar­ate hard­ship ex­emp­tions. These in­clude, but aren’t lim­ited to, home­less­ness, the re­cent death of a close fam­ily mem­ber, and, as Car­ney men­tioned, res­id­ence in a state that fails to ex­pand Medi­caid to 138 per­cent of the fed­er­al poverty line for people who would have been eli­gible if they lived in a state that did.

The Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice es­tim­ates that 24 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans will qual­i­fy for these ex­emp­tions by 2016.

And not be­ing able to ac­cess the Health­Care.gov web­site to sign up for cov­er­age could be ad­ded to the list of hard­ship ex­emp­tions, if the HHS sec­ret­ary de­cided to do so. “The hard­ship ex­cep­tion is open-ended. The sec­ret­ary can define hard­ship,” says Wash­ing­ton and Lee Uni­versity law pro­fess­or Tim Jost.

Asked wheth­er, if the tech­nic­al troubles con­tin­ue, there could be an is­sue with in­di­vidu­als meet­ing the man­date be­fore the pen­alty be­gins, Car­ney said HHS is “work­ing on align­ing those policies, the en­roll­ment peri­od and the in­di­vidu­al re­spons­ib­il­ity time­frame peri­od, and they’ll is­sue guid­ance soon.” HHS had not re­spon­ded to an e-mailed re­quest for com­ment at the time of pub­lic­a­tion.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has em­phas­ized that the web­site is not the only way to sign up for cov­er­age. In­di­vidu­als still have the op­tion of buy­ing in­sur­ance in per­son or over the phone, which Obama touted in a Monday Rose Garden ap­pear­ance for which he has been com­pared to an in­fomer­cial sales­man.

“The phone num­ber for these call cen­ters is 1-800-318-2596,” he said. “I want to re­peat that: 1-800-318-2596. Wait times have av­er­aged less than one minute so far on the call cen­ters.”

How long it will take to fix Health­Care.gov is not clear at this time.

There are some “wrinkles” with us­ing web­site troubles as a qual­i­fi­er for the hard­ship ex­emp­tion, Nich­olas Bagley, a Uni­versity of Michigan law pro­fess­or, and Aus­tin Frakt, a health eco­nom­ist at the U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, point out in a Bloomberg ed­it­or­i­al they co-au­thored. The ex­changes are sup­posed to pro­cess hard­ship ex­emp­tion ap­plic­a­tions; that’s com­plic­ated if the web­sites aren’t work­ing. But Se­beli­us can draft a rule that would in­struct the broken ex­changes to is­sue blanket hard­ship ex­emp­tions to all the un­in­sured in their states, waiv­ing the pen­alty for every­one un­able to pur­chase through the bus­ted web­sites, they say.

Amer­ic­ans who can af­ford health in­sur­ance and choose not to buy it, and don’t qual­i­fy for one of the ex­emp­tions out­lined by HHS, will face pen­al­ties (“in­di­vidu­al shared re­spons­ib­il­ity pay­ments,” in gov-speak) start­ing in 2014. The pen­alty next year for not ob­tain­ing cov­er­age is $95 per per­son, or 1 per­cent of in­come, whichever is great­er; the amount climbs to $695 and 2.5 per­cent of in­come by 2016. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­ly­ing on par­ti­cip­a­tion in the health-in­sur­ance ex­changes of a broad swath of the pop­u­la­tion, not just the sick and eld­erly, to keep costs down.

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
3 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
3 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login