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 »
SANS PROOF
NRA Chief: Leftist Protesters Are Paid
1 days ago
UPDATE
NEW TRAVEL BAN COMING SOON
Trump Still on Campaign Rhetoric
1 days ago
UPDATE
“WE’RE CHANGING IT”
Trump Rails On Obamacare
1 days ago
UPDATE

After spending a few minutes re-litigating the Democratic primary, Donald Trump turned his focus to Obamacare. “I inherited a mess, believe me. We also inherited a failed healthcare law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe” he said. “I’ve been watching and nobody says it, but Obamacare doesn’t work.” He finished, "so we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare."

FAKE NEWS
Trump Goes After The Media
1 days ago
UPDATE

Donald Trump lobbed his first attack at the “dishonest media” about a minute into his speech, saying that the media would not appropriately cover the standing ovation that he received. “We are fighting the fake news,” he said, before doubling down on his previous claim that the press is “the enemy of the people." However, he made a distinction, saying that he doesn't think all media is the enemy, just the "fake news."

FBI TURNED DOWN REQUEST
Report: Trump Asked FBI to Deny Russia Stories
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN. But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate."

Source:
×
×

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