Vulnerable Democratic Senators Sent Concerned Letter to Sebelius On Wednesday. Sebelius Announces Policy Change on Thursday.

December 20th, 2013

The letter to Sebelius, signed by Warner (VA), King (ME), Shaheen (NH), Landrieu (LA), Heitkamp (ND), and Kaine (VA) sent to Secretary Sebelius on Wednesday, Dec. 19 urged her to cover people who had their policies cancelled under the hardship exemption. The very next day, Sebelius did just that?! Coincidence, huh?

The letter begins?

We have heard from many of our constituents who are upset about the cancellation of their health care plans. We write to get explicit clarity on one provision of the law that we believe might be able to provide transition relief for some of these constituents.

What does “transition” mean? Some change that will get us past the 2014 midterm elections. But of course, with policies to be cancelled next year, there will be every incentive to extend exemptions next fall.

The letter goes on to urge that those who had their policies cancelled be granted a hardship exemption.

We believe it is essential that you further clarify what is defined as a hardship exemption to access these [catastrophic plans] . . .  We would hope that you make this change as soon as possible to give individuals time to make the decisions that are best for them prior to January 1st.

And wouldn’t you know it, the very next day, HHS adopted this formal definition of “hardship.”

Yuval Levin writes at NRO how stunning it is that within 24 hours of receiving a letter from vulnerable Democrats in the Senate, HHS suddenly had an epiphany of a policy change, and decided to exempt people from Obamacare because of the hardship Obamacare created by canceling policies under Obamacare.

It is a stunning move, plainly driven by dread at the impending chaos and dislocation in the individual market in January. It is also pretty clearly moved by utter panic among some Democratic senators, and their desire to be given credit for some of the administration’s Obamacare “fixes”—as evidenced by the bizarre kabuki theater of having six Democratic senators (who voted to impose this system on their constituents, of course) send a letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius on Wednesday asking her to take this step. If you think a regulatory change announced Thursday was made in response to a letter sent Wednesday, I’ve got a bridge over the East River to sell you. 

Instapundit has taken to using the phrase Potemkin Village of late. I don’t know any other way to characterize this recent “policy change.” This is government theater. Remember when Biden told vulnerable Democrats to “blame us” after the botched rollout of

On Nov. 6, Ms. Landrieu and the other “2014ers” marched to the White House, where they spent two hours in the Roosevelt Room upbraiding the president and his advisers. Aides to Mr. Obama say the meeting was called, in part, to give Democrats a chance to publicly criticize the president — a message that Vice President Biden delivered to Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, in a separate meeting with several freshman Democrats.

“Just attack us,” Mr. Biden said, according to one person present. “Blame us.”

Levin adds:

Based on this step and the one announced a week ago, you would have to conclude that the White House knows something it isn’t telling us—and of course that’s not surprising given how secretive they have been about the facts, assumptions, and projections motivating their decisions regarding Obamacare implementation. What they know might be something about panic among Democratic lawmakers, it might be something about enrollment patterns, it might be something about insurer concerns, or some combination. But whatever it is, it is quite significant, because the step they have now taken is a very big one that could seriously undermine the architecture of the law the administration is still pretending to implement.

Administration policies are being made up on the fly, based purely on political constraints, without any concern for how this will impact millions of people.

Update: More from WSJ:

. But this week a group of six endangered Senate Democrats importuned HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to “clarify” that the victims of ObamaCare also qualify. An excerpt from their Wednesday letter, whose signatories include New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and Virginia’s Mark Warner, is nearby.

HHS and the Senators must have coordinated in advance because literally overnight HHS rushed out a bulletin noting that exemptions are available to those who “experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that he or she had a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.” A tornado destroys the neighborhood or ObamaCare blows up the individual insurance market, what’s the difference?