President Obama's health care law suffered yet another setback Monday, as the administration delayed a significant consumer protection in the law that limits how much people may have to spend on their own health care, the New York Times reports.
In a ruling that went by with little notice, federal officials have granted a one-year grace period to some insurers, allowing them to set higher limits, or no limit at all on some costs, in 2014. The limit on out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles and co-payments, was not supposed to exceed $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family:
The grace period has been outlined on the Labor Department’s Web site since February, but was obscured in a maze of legal and bureaucratic language that went largely unnoticed. When asked in recent days about the language — which appeared as an answer to one of 137 "frequently asked questions about Affordable Care Act implementation" — department officials confirmed the policy.
The discovery is likely to fuel continuing Republican efforts this fall to discredit the president’s health care law.
Under the policy, many group health plans will be able to maintain separate out-of-pocket limits for benefits in 2014. As a result, a consumer may be required to pay $6,350 for doctors’ services and hospital care, and an additional $6,350 for prescription drugs under a plan administered by a pharmacy benefit manager.
Among numerous problems, the controversial health care law has caused many companies to lay off employees and shift others to part-time status to avoid paying penalties, and experts have openly questioned the president’s claim that the mandated health insurance exchanges will drive down insurance costs.
This latest setback comes after the Obama administration announced last month it would not require employers to provide health insurance for their workers until 2015:
Although the two delays are unrelated, together they underscore the difficulties the Obama administration is facing as it rolls out the health care law.
Advocates for people with chronic illnesses said they were dismayed by the policy decision on out-of-pocket costs.
"The government’s unexpected interpretation of the law will disproportionately harm people with complex chronic conditions and disabilities," said Myrl Weinberg, the chief executive of the National Health Council, which speaks for more than 50 groups representing patients.