Posted by Ezra Klein
December 19, 2013 at 9:15 pm
Today, the Obama administration announced that people whose insurance plans were canceled this year will “temporarily” be exempted from the law’s individual mandate. Here’s how they’re doing it — and what it means for the law.
1. The individual mandate includes a “hardship exemption.” People who qualify can either ignore the individual mandate altogether or purchase a cheap, bare-bones catastrophic insurance plan that’s typically only available to people under 30.
2. According to HHS, the exemption covers people who “experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that he or she had a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.”
3. Today, the administration agreed with a group of senators, led by Mark Warner of Virginia, who argued that having your insurance plan canceled counted as “an unexpected natural or human-caused event.” For these people, in other words, Obamacare itself is the hardship. You can read HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ full letter here. HHS’s formal guidance is here.
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4. How may people does this affect? No one quite knows. Republicans estimate that about 5 million people have seen their plans canceled. The Obama administration believes the number, at this point, is actually in the hundreds of thousands. There’s no truly reliable figure here.
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