Uh oh: Carney dodges question on whether individual mandate might need to be delayed

Actually, I can answer that question for Jon Karl: No, the mandate certainly won’t be delayed. The entire law, including the mandate, might be delayed if HHS can’t get its act together by Thanksgiving, say, but delaying only the mandate would significantly increase the odds of an industry “death spiral.” That’s the only thing right now that’s forcing healthy young uninsured adults into the pool; take away the mandate and leave the rest intact and you’ve got hundreds of thousands of sick people with preexisting conditions diving in with no way to pay for them. Either delay the whole thing and tell the sick to wait ’til next year or maintain the Kafkaesque status quo in which healthy people are penalized for failing to do something which, for technological reasons, the government makes it almost impossible for them to do.

Here’s what Carney told Karl:

CARNEY: We’re three weeks into a six-month enrollment period. As I said, the law itself as written makes clear that Americans with access to affordable insurance would need to have insurance by March 31. But people that do not have access to affordable care, due to a state not expanding Medicaid — and there are states out there who are depriving their own residents of access to expanded Medicaid because they made that choice — or due to other factors, will not be penalized. That is number one. When it comes to the issue I was just talking to Brianna about, with the February 15 marker period, I would refer you to HHS for more details, but they are looking to align the policies, the disconnect between open enrollment period and the individual responsibility timeframes, which exists in the first year only.

What does “access” mean? Tommy Christopher reads it this way:

[I]t seems to m that Carney is hedging on two possible outcomes. If the rollout of the website is smoothed out in fairly short order, then the administration can leave things as they are, and contend that people did have sufficient access. If the problems persist, then they can establish a process whereby people can apply for exemption on a case-by-case basis, so that people in states with successful state-based exchanges might be charged the penalty, while those on the federal exchange might not. In practice, though, they would probably grant the exemption to anyone who asked for it.

That’s great, but if they have to waive billions in revenue due to mandate exemptions, they’ve still got a potential “death spiral” problem. Maybe that’s ironic vindication for John Roberts: People are going to have to pay Uncle Sam to make this new boondoggle semi-viable, whether or not they’ve failed to comply with the law through no fault of their own. It’s a tax! You’re welcome, America.

And now here’s your cue, in case you haven’t read it already, to read Megan McArdle’s post last week arguing that the drop-dead date for ObamaCare is sometime next month, not mid-December or the “six-month enrollment period” as Carney likes to imagine. If the site remains unworkable on the back-end for another month, insurers won’t be able to process the crush of enrollments in late November and December as people scramble to sign up for coverage by January 1. The “six-month enrollment period” is a talking point, nothing more.