What a difference a few weeks makes. Remember when Democrats voted to keep the government shut down rather than accept a delay in the individual mandate? Now that the Obamacare implosion is dominating the news, they are falling over each to see who gets credit for a delay.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is pushing legislation to delay the mandate for one year. And last week, 10 Senate Democrats - Jeanne Shaheen, N.H.; Mark Begich, Alaska; Mark Pryor, Ark.; Mary Landrieu, La.; Kay Hagan, N.C.; Dianne Feinstein, Calif.; Mark Udall, Colo.; Tom Udall, N.M.; Michael Bennet, Colo.; and Martin Heinrich, N.M. - wrote to the Obama administration declaring that individuals "should not be penalized for lack of coverage" if they are unable to purchase health insurance because of technical problems.
With more Democrats joining the mandate-delay caucus, President Obama may have no choice but to go along. But such a delay would do nothing to right the Obamacare train wreck.
That's because hundreds of thousands of Americans are getting letters from their insurers informing them that their policies are being canceled because of Obamacare - and the numbers could soon be in the millions. If you are one of those Americans losing your health insurance on Jan. 1, the last thing you are worried about is some $95 fine. You are furious that you and your family no longer have health insurance because of Obamacare.
In Pennsylvania, Independence Blue Cross has begun informing customers that "As a result of the health care law, your current health plan will be discontinued effective December 31, 2013." In California, Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield of California sent cancellation letters to 279,000 people, while Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida is terminating 300,000 policies - about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Experts say that as many as 16 million people could have their health plans canceled because they don't meet the new requirements of Obamacare.
But because of the website fiasco, Americans losing their current insurance because of Obamacare can't sign up for new insurance under Obamacare. That leaves them with two choices: Pay the skyrocketing rates now being demanded by insurers to keep comparable coverage on the individual market (because Obamacare mandates and regulations have driven prices through the roof), or go without coverage. Many can't afford the exorbitant replacement plans. So unless Obamacare starts working as advertised, massive numbers of currently insured Americans could find themselves without insurance on Jan. 1.
The irony is, Obamacare was supposed to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, but it could end up expanding the ranks of the uninsured instead.
This means the Obama administration has weeks, not months, to get the system fixed. Officials have promised that the website will be working by Nov. 30, but over the weekend CNN reported that yet another "malfunction in key technology behind the Obamacare website left users unable to apply for health coverage late Sunday." The problem is getting worse, not better. So the odds that the system will be working flawlessly a month from now are slim to none.
Even if it were, that would still leave just two weeks for potentially millions of Americans who lost their health insurance to sign up for new coverage on the exchanges. Two weeks is not enough time to process all those applications, much less for people to shop, compare plans and make one of the most consequential decisions for their families.
And let's say, by some miracle, all those people do manage to get into the exchanges just under the wire. What exactly would the Obama administration have accomplished? It would have presided over the massive, chaotic, involuntary transfer of millions of people out of private health insurance they were happy with into Obamacare plans they did not want - all in violation of President Obama's promise that if you've got health insurance you like "you can keep your plan." Quite an achievement.
Come Jan. 1, the Obama administration will have to stop stonewalling and tell us exactly how many people signed up for the exchanges. When it does, it had also better be able to say exactly how many of those who joined the exchanges already had health insurance but lost their plans because of Obamacare.
If large numbers of Americans end up without health insurance next year, the botched Web launch fiasco will pale by comparison. Delaying the individual mandate won't be enough to fix it.
So if you're a young, healthy person who thinks you don't need health insurance, congratulations - you're probably going to avoid a $95 fine. But if you're one of the millions who are losing health plans they liked because of Obamacare, you're out of luck.
A fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, Thiessen writes a weekly column for The Washington Post.