Bi­den looks to higher power for big deal

Oba­macare may hurt am­bi­tions States sud­denly handed back big headache of health care

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY BEN WOLF­GANG BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den vowed Mon­day that Oba­macare even­tu­ally will be a suc­cess, but added a cru­cial qual­i­fier: “God will­ing.”

Mr. Bi­den, widely ru­mored to be mulling his own White House run in 2016, has good rea­son to call for di­vine in­ter­ven­tion in turn­ing around what has been a dis­as­trous roll­out of the Af­ford­able Care Act. His po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions will be tied di­rectly to the law he once called a “big [ex­ple­tive] deal”: Its suc­cess would give the vice pres­i­dent a key sell­ing point; its fail­ure would weigh down and pos­si­bly sink his cam­paign.

Mr. Bi­den isn’t the only Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­ful sad­dled with the po­lit­i­cally del­i­cate task of fig­ur­ing out how to han­dle Oba­macare’s rocky start.

Gover­nors such as New York’s An­drew Cuomo and Mary­land’s Martin O’Mal­ley, thought to be con­sid­er­ing pres­i­den­tial bids, have not de­cided whether they will em­brace the pres­i­dent’s “fix” — a one-year re­prieve for

Florida washed its hands of Oba­macare long ago, opt­ing to let the fed­eral gov­ern­ment run a health care ex­change for the state.

But state Insurance Com­mis­sioner Kevin M. McCarty is now scram­bling to work with Florida’s largest in­surer to re­scind can­cel­la­tion notices and let res­i­dents keep their health care, even though it vi­o­lates Oba­macare’s strict stan­dards.

Pres­i­dent Obama’s an­nounce­ment last week that he would let states de­cide whether to let com­pa­nies con­tinue to of­fer plans that flout his own health care law has put state of­fi­cials back on the hot seat.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that the insurance com­mis­sion­ers have been put in this po­si­tion through no fault of their own,” Mr. McCarty said in an in­ter­view.

Amer­i­cans whose insurance poli­cies are be­ing can­celed.

Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat and a fa­vorite among lib­er­als who are urg­ing her to run in 2016, re­cently came out in sup­port of the pres­i­dent’s fix. But she also is back­ing the Oba­macare fea­ture that is caus­ing the cancellations and/or re­quir­ing peo­ple in the in­di­vid­ual insurance mar­ket to pay more for poli­cies — reg­u­la­tions that re­quire insurance plans to meet cer­tain cov­er­age and gen­eros­ity stan­dards es­tab­lished by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

The 2016 Demo­cratic fa­vorite, Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, largely has been mum on the health care law, but her hus­band has thrust her into the is­sue by call­ing on Mr. Obama to keep his prom­ise and al­low Amer­i­cans to keep their insurance if they like it.

For­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s words came at an inop­por­tune time for Mr. Obama, who last week had to ad­dress the na­tion and ac­knowl­edge that his in­fa­mous “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” pledge wasn’t true.

For the Clin­tons, Mr. Obama’s suc­cess in push­ing through health care re­form, de­spite its many prob­lems, also is a re­minder of their own fail­ure in the early 1990s. The Clin­tons’ re­form ef­fort, dubbed Hil­larycare, even­tu­ally col­lapsed amid strong op­po­si­tion from Repub­li­cans, the insurance in­dus­try and oth­ers.

But for Mrs. Clin­ton and oth­ers who may mount a pres­i­den­tial run, an­a­lysts say, Oba­macare could be in the rear-view mir­ror by the time party pri­mary de­bates be­gin in 2015, as­sum­ing the law’s tra­jec­tory is turned around — and fast.

If the elec­tion were held next year rather than in 2016, Mr. Bi­den, Mrs. Clin­ton, Mr. Cuomo and other can­di­dates would be us­ing the is­sue to at­tack one another and ex­plain why they would have han­dled health care re­form bet­ter than the cur­rent com­man­der in chief, said Dante Scala, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire who spe­cial­izes in pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics.

“By 2015, we’ll be a cou­ple of years into this. The over­all re­sults of the Af­ford­able Care Act would have to be as hor­ren­dous as this roll­out has been for it to be an is­sue,” he said Mon­day.

“Let’s as­sume things get bet­ter from here as far as Oba­macare goes — and that’s a fair ques­tion to ask — but as­sume it goes bet­ter from here. I think Democrats, as a whole, will have had their fill of the health care de­bate. They’re go­ing to be in­ter­ested in say­ing that it’s set­tled, let’s im­prove it and move on to other things. They’re not go­ing to want to re­lit­i­gate it,” he said.

But Democrats with pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions can’t keep silent for the next two years in the hopes that Oba­macare — and its trou­bled web­site, Health­Care.gov — gains trac­tion.

With the ex­cep­tion of Mrs. Clin­ton, po­ten­tial con­tenders must make de­ci­sions and take po­si­tions now.

In Mary­land, Mr. O’Mal­ley’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is weigh­ing whether to adopt the pres­i­dent’s fix or buck the ad­min­is­tra­tion and al­low peo­ple to be booted off of their insurance plans.

“The pres­i­dent’s an­nounce­ment presents a num­ber of com­plex is­sues,” the state’s insurance ad­min­is­tra­tion said in a state­ment, adding that Mary­land of­fi­cials will meet with insurance com­pa­nies and other par­ties to de­ter­mine the best path for­ward.

New York’s Depart­ment of Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices, which over­sees health insurance, didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment Mon­day, but of­fi­cials in the Em­pire State also re­port­edly haven’t made a de­ci­sion.

Mrs. War­ren — a first-term se­na­tor who quickly has be­come a pro­gres­sive hero — is stand­ing with the pres­i­dent and has de­fended the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed fix.

“They’re try­ing to make the tran­si­tion work. They’re try­ing to do ev­ery­thing they can to make it work and get peo­ple into the sys­tem,” she said last week af­ter the pres­i­dent an­nounced his pro­posed changes.

If health care re­form does be­come a ma­jor is­sue in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, it likely would fo­cus more on the man­age­ment is­sues re­lated to the web­site launch and other prob­lems with im­ple­men­ta­tion, rather the un­der­ly­ing goals of Oba­macare, on which the po­ten­tial can­di­dates largely agree.

“I don’t think it’ll be a high-pro­file is­sue in which the de­bate mod­er­a­tors are try­ing to draw clear distinctions be­tween one can­di­date and another, sim­ply be­cause I don’t be­lieve there are clear distinctions to be had,” Mr. Scala said.

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