I was struck during President Obama's health care speech before Congress several months ago that the reforms he advocates would not go into effect for four years, until 2014. This timetable, too, is written into both the House and Senate versions.
Why the delay?
It is hard for me to imagine, even given the federal rulemaking process, that it should take four years to establish an insurance exchange from which people can buy coverage. This is the exchange that would eliminate the nasty practices of insurance companies: Denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions; limiting annual or lifetime payments; and rescission of policies. It is hard for me to imagine, too, why it should take four years to fully deliver targeted subsidies to lower income people so they can afford insurance.
As noted by Princeton Professor Paul Starr in yesterday's New York Times: "By comparison, when Medicare was enacted in 1965, it went into effect the next year."
This leaves me with a bad feeling. It looks like the Obama team does not want implementation of the health care bill to take place during their first term. Why? Perhaps they know that the cost of the plan is higher than they are saying. Or maybe they know that the options available to consumers will be less attractive than currently portrayed.
Maybe they are worried that if all this happens on their watch, re-election in 2012 will be in jeopardy.
I have yet to find a knowledgeable observer who does not agree that the cost of universal coverage will be high and that consumer choice will become more limited to the degree that federal policy tries to control costs.
I personally think the cost of universal access is worth it and an important public policy imperative; but the administration puts itself into a box when it downplays the consequences of the legislation. It is forced to postpone the effective date until after the 2012 election, so it will not suffer political backlash from a public that has been misled.
Let's hope that Congress sees this otherwise and implements these important measures more quickly. (Wouldn't it be ironic if the Republicans offered a floor amendment accelerating the effective date? How could the majority party oppose that?)