Exchange city

A man walks past Independence Hall at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) A man walks past Independence Hall at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Well, we’re finally here. After dozens of lawsuits, more than a few delays and God knows how many PAC dollars spent on TV spots, the public exchanges go live today, marking maybe one of the biggest milestones to date for the president’s signature legislative legacy.

(Fitting that it’s also the start of Halloween season, with tricks, treats and bad weather just around the corner.)

But, wait, what’s that? The federal government is about to shut down? Because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?

(Is it me or did Congress wanna take this law back as soon as it was off the Hill? I haven’t seen buyer’s remorse this bad since my first marriage.)

So now the House Republicans take a principled stand, chaining themselves to the federal budget like some kind of eco warriors daring the big, bad developer – played in a stunning role reversal by Senate Dems – to chop it down.

Will it work? Hmm, let’s see, if the federal government shuts down:

  • Obviously, a boatload of federal workers – roughly a million, give or take –suddenly get some (unpaid) time off. Sadly, this includes park rangers. Happily, this includes IRS workers. (No wonder they delayed the mandate penalty. Hard to enforce when no one’s in the office.)
  • We should also be grateful USDA’s meat inspectors get to stay on the job as well. (Although, having a bunch of tainted meat in the system would do wonders for exchange enrollment, but more on that in a minute…)
  • The military still gets paid, too, thank God. The Senate signed off on this deal just this week.
  • Of course, a lot of national monuments get shuttered, as well, but last time I was in the Beltway, it seemed at least half of them were closed for construction anyway.
  • But we get no jobs reports, which is probably just as well given how confusing they’ve become. Labor just announced that while the government is shut down, so to speak, we’ll get no new jobs numbers. Hard to say who benefits there, especially if the economy starts dipping again.
  • Finally, I think we’re screwed on flu shots.

But, no matter what, the exchanges will be open for enrollment as you read this. That new day we’ve worried about, fought over and (hopefully) planned for is here. It’s time we all woke up and faced it, and not borrow any more problems than we already have right now.

And, if anything, this could do more harm than good. Let’s say the federal exchanges stumble badly out of the gate, whether as a result of anemic enrollment (what if you throw a party and no one shows up?), or technical difficulties (Y2K, but for real this time) but no one notices. Outside the industry, anyway. Because the morning talk shows will be screaming about the shutdown, the debt ceiling, Iran – anything but the exchanges.

And we’ll be screwed all over again.

About the Author
Denis Storey

Denis Storey

Denis Storey is editor for BenefitsPro.com and Benefits Selling magazine. He can be reached at dstorey@benefitspro.com.

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