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There is an old philosophical puzzle that asks the following: If you begin to replace the parts of your car, one by one, until no original parts remain, is it still the same car? If not, at what point did the change occur?
It’s an interesting thought experiment that has a surprising amount of relevance with respect to the Affordable Care Act. Despite the repeated insistence by its defenders that ObamaCare is “the law of the land,” the president has shown that the law can be a remarkably plastic thing. Using only his executive authority, President Obama has repeatedly altered and delayed the law that bears his name until it has become all but unrecognizable.
Far from the monolithic savior of the American health-care system it was touted as being, ObamaCare has become akin to Frankenstein’s monster, a thing of shreds and patches, cobbled awkwardly together in a futile attempt to micromanage one of the most complex systems in existence.
The employer mandate, enrollment deadlines, website deadlines, and security deadlines have all been missed or extended. At this point, basically the only parts of the law that remain intact are the individual mandate, tax increases, and the insurance company “risk corridors”—fancy terminology for what essentially amounts to a bailout for big insurers.
The president has also extended his “if you like your plan you can keep it” provision, hastily enacted in response to the immense backlash to what Politifact called 2013’s Lie of the Year. Due to the restrictive requirements ObamaCare places on insurers compelling them to cover non-essential and often inappropriate procedures, an awful lot of people are receiving cancellation notices in the mail in spite of the president’s promises. By postponing these requirements, Obama is not addressing the fundamental problems with the law, but simply pushing the pain back to a time when it will be more politically convenient.
It is no coincidence that the implementation of all of the law’s most visible and unpopular provisions now fall after the November elections. With mounting fears that the Republicans might take back the Senate, the Obama administration is taking extraordinary measures to shield Democrats from anything that might make them look bad. And by acting on his own authority rather than going through the proper legislative channels, Obama displays both a disrespect for Congress and an inability to function as an effective leader, both qualities which are unbecoming in a sitting president.
It speaks volumes that the president regards his own signature legislative accomplishment as something for Democrats to distance themselves from. It should be remembered that the law was originally passed without a single Republican vote, so sure were its architects that it was the right thing for Americans. One can’t help but wonder where that confidence has gone now that actual elections are on the line.
Of course, not everyone is happy about these repeated delays either. Insurers are complaining that the high levels of uncertainty in the law are making it difficult for them to do their jobs, a problem which will ultimately be borne by policyholders as companies pass on the administrative costs of compliance. If we’re going to delay pieces of the law—rather than repealing the whole thing as we should—it would make more sense to focus on the individual mandate, the unjust, unprecedented requirement for people to purchase a privately sold product or else face a penalty.
The president is behaving like a mad doctor, hacking the law apart and frantically trying to sew it back together to protect his Democratic allies at the expense of the American people. But like the ill-fated Victor Frankenstein of Shelley’s novel, he may find that his creation has grown beyond his control, pursuing him, and his allies in the Senate, relentlessly towards the icy wastes of a rapidly approaching November.