The surprise announcement this past week that the White House is delaying a requirement that many employers offer coverage raised questions about other major parts of the biggest expansion of society’s safety net since Medicare almost 50 years ago.
One delay may not matter much in the end. People will judge Obama’s law on three main points: premiums, choice and the overall consumer experience.
Only partial answers can be gleaned now, and they don’t necessarily fall along predictable lines.
Basic economics suggests premiums will be higher than what many people who buy their own coverage pay now, especially the young and healthy. The new policies provide better benefits, and starting next year, insurers won’t be able to turn away the sick. But the pocketbook impact will be eased by new tax credits and other features that people soon will discover.
As for choice, Obama’s plan isn’t likely to deliver the dozens of options available to seniors through Medicare. But limited choices may not be seen as a step backward because in most states the individual health insurance market is now dominated by a single insurer.
The consumer experience shopping online for insurance remains the biggest unknown — and a risk.
Squads of technology experts — federal, state, insurer and contractor employees — are trying mesh government and private computer systems together in ways that haven’t been tried before. It may not feel like Amazon.com. Many people could default to enrolling the low-tech way, through call centers or even through the mail.