Another Obamacare delay: Out-of-pocket limits pushed to 2015

Looks like Republicans in the House of Representatives might not need to keep voting to repeal Obamacare. The White House is doing a fine job delaying the thing all by itself.

Last month, the administration pushed back a major provision that larger employers offer insurance to full-time workers. This month officials have delayed a measure that would limit consumer out-of-pocket spending.

Back in September, 2009, President Barack Obama was selling health reform -- hard. And in a speech to Congress, he made this promise.

“We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick,” he said.

Five years after that speech, plenty of Americans are still going broke.

“About two-thirds of personal bankruptcies were attributed to medical bills, says Christina LaMontagne with the consumer advocacy group NerdWallet.

LaMontagne says that works out to about 600,000 people. She says another 56 million struggle to cover their health care costs every year, and delaying the out-of-pocket cap -- which is about $6,000 for an individual, nearly $13,000 for a family -- only puts more pressure on people who are sick.

“Patients may delay or not get treatment because they can’t be sure how much it’s going to cost them,” she says.

The rationale for the delay -- some businesses need more time to prepare for complicated out-of-pocket calculations.

“It’s really a small number of people who will be affected by this,” says MIT Health economist Jon Gruber, who helped write the law.

But even if this delay doesn’t have much impact on consumers, Gruber admits the mounting number of delays undermines people’s faith in Obamacare. He says the administration is making a political calculation.

“They’re saying ‘look, we rather face the political price now of people giving us a hard time about delay, then over the next year be killed with a steady drip of stories about how the out-of-pocket max isn’t quite working correctly,'” he says.

But there could be another price, says Nerdwallet’s Lamontagne. People may wait a year for the cap to kick in to sign up for insurance -- something the administration really doesn’t want to see.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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