Why Delaying Obamacare Has Insurers Freaking Out

Sam Baker | Nextgov | October 31, 2013

The health insurance industry already had plenty to freak out about with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Simply complying with the law is a massive undertaking, never mind the terrible HealthCare.gov debut. But the botched rollout has produced a new source of anxiety for insurers: the growing bipartisan support for delaying parts of the act’s implementation.

Republicans have wanted to delay the law’s individual insurance mandate for years. They’ve voted on it in the House, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is keeping the idea alive in the upper chamber. Delaying the mandate would be terrible news for insurance companies, but so far they haven’t had to take a strong position on most of the GOP’s proposals. They have been counting on political gridlock to take care of the issue: A delay wouldn’t happen, so insurers didn’t have to break with their anti-Obamacare allies or publicly side with pro-Obamacare Democrats on the issue.

That tone is changing, though, in the wake of HealthCare.gov’s woes. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is working on a bipartisan bill to delay the individual mandate for a year, a move that has set off alarms inside the industry. “The individual mandate is inextricably linked to the insurance-market reforms included in the health care reform law,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s leading trade organization.