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EDITORIAL: Obamacare in full effect, but law of land far from settled

Welcome to the brave new world. Obamacare finally becomes the law of the land on New Year’s Day.

It’s officially called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, though as National Review’s Mark Steyn pointed out months ago, it “neither protects the former nor makes the latter affordable.”

Furthermore, the law is hardly going into effect as it was passed back in 2010 on a straight party-line vote. Every Democrat voted for it, and every Republican voted against it. Since President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats decided it was in the best interest of the United States for the federal government to take over one-sixth of the economy, they’ve clamored incessantly in the storm of opposition that Obamacare is indeed the “law of the land.”

Yet at a bevy of junctures, the president has granted waivers, delayed mandates first on large businesses for a year, then on small businesses, and continually pushed back what had been mandatory sign-up deadlines, putting incredible pressures on the insurance industry and thrusting instability onto businesses that have no idea how to prepare for “full” enactment of the law. These moves have been made largely by executive fiat, changing the law without approval of the legislative branch.

Most recently, the Obama administration “urged” insurers to accept payment of the first month’s premium after Jan. 1, up until as late as Jan. 10, and even encouraged insurers to accept down payments on the first monthly premium. If that doesn’t tell you how unaffordable the Affordable Care Act is, nothing will. In addition, the millions of people who had their individual policies canceled due to this law have just been granted a “temporary hardship” exemption from the individual mandate. And all this while people struggle to sign up on perhaps the worst-designed, most-expensive website ever developed, and while premiums go up for everybody — in some cases by thousands of dollars a year.

It’s the law of the land, except for those parts that aren’t politically expedient for President Obama and Democratic legislators up for re-election in 2014. More and more such parts expose themselves every day, with many more to come this year. As the Wall Street Journal’s John H. Cochrane wrote on Dec. 25, “This fall’s website fiasco and policy cancellations are only the beginning. Next spring the individual mandate is likely to unravel when we see how sick the people are who signed up on exchanges, and if our government really is going to penalize voters for not buying health insurance.”

So what to do? It’s may not be smart to forgo health insurance, but you don’t have to settle for an Obamacare-compliant plan. In fact, it might be less expensive to purchase a non-compliant plan that better meets your needs and is not larded up with coverage you don’t need — like forcing maternity care on a 39-year-old man or a 55-year-old woman. Yes, you might end up paying the tax for not complying with Obamacare ($95 or 1 percent of your income), but that could still be far less punitive than paying comprehensive-level premiums for catastrophic-level health insurance, especially when the whopping deductibles are factored in.

From there, Americans need to hope Obamacare implodes and that a much freer health care and health insurance market is allowed to replace it. In other words, as with all developments that have helped better the lives of Americans, competition is a must. Mr. Cochrane notes, “Health care and health insurance are strongly protected from competition. … Only deregulation can unleash competition. And only disruptive competition, where new businesses drive out old ones, will bring efficiency, lower costs and innovation.”

Obamacare, on its first day as actual law and less than four years after passage, is already an old business. Repeal and replace. That will make 2014 a Happy New Year.

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