Even in government shutdown, Obamacare is ‘good to go’

Could a government shutdown on Oct. 1 delay the rollout of Obamacare's new health-insurance exchanges? Not a chance, says a White House official.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama, with former President Bill Clinton, speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York Tuesday. The two discussed Obamacare, among other topics.

Oct. 1 – just six days away – is a double deadline. The government will shut down if Congress doesn’t approve (and President Obama sign) new funding, and enrollment begins for the uninsured to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare.

But if the government shuts down, does that also delay implementation of Obamacare?

In a word, no, says David Simas, deputy senior adviser for communications at the White House.

“In terms of the outreach, we are good to go,” says Mr. Simas, speaking at a breakfast Wednesday sponsored by Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank in Washington.

“The marketplaces will be stood up,” he says, referring to the government-run online “exchanges” where people can shop for a plan and potentially qualify for a subsidy or even free coverage. “The folks on the ground are ready to go. The 8,000 community health centers are staffed up and ready to provide the guidance. The commercials on television are going to be ready to go, up and running.”

The ACA is funded mostly through multiyear and mandatory spending, so a failure to agree on annual appropriations wouldn’t touch its funding. But that hasn’t stopped opponents of the law from trying to kill off the program’s funds legislatively – and also reaching out to key constituencies, such as the Koch-brothers-funded Generation Opportunity campaign aimed at getting young adults to pay a fine rather than sign up for health insurance.

In addition, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden have been, and will continue to be, involved in outreach efforts aimed at informing the public about the subsidies available for people. Tuesday night, Mr. Obama and former President Bill Clinton talked health care at a Clinton family foundation event in New York.

Polls show a high percentage of the public doesn’t understand the law. But Simas is confident that over time, as people go to Healthcare.gov and plug in their information, they will see the benefits.  

But don’t look at the signup numbers right after Oct. 1, he says.  

“October will be light for enrollment,” Simas says, since benefits don’t kick in until Jan. 1. “November will be a little bit better. December, as people know [they] can now sign up and get coverage in a few weeks, will be better.”

He expects a dropoff in January and February, with another increase in March right before the enrollment period ends.

And what about the proposal to delay implementation of the individual mandate for a year? Not a chance, he suggests.

“It would result in 11 million fewer people having coverage in 2014,… and it will increase premiums,” he warns. A delay would also be “destabilizing” to the “tens of millions of folks with preexisting conditions who frankly have delayed long enough.”

The law bans insurers from refusing to insure people with preexisting conditions.

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