“I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

As a journalist, and lifelong procrastinator, I’ve always loved that Douglas Adams line. Apparently, so do Obama, Sebellius and the gang.

After months of preparation, speculation and resignation, the Obama Administration—or more specifically, Treasury—backed off the employer mandate, essentially giving mid-to-large employers a reprieve.

This late-breaking story—on the cusp of a holiday—brought more questions than answers.

What does this mean for the exchanges? Nothing. Those remain on track.

What about individuals? Unaffected. That mandate remains as is. Which is also why I fully expect exchange enrollment to move ahead as is.

Why now? That’s the tricky part. I can’t help but think the holiday week played a part, but it hasn’t stopped the critics from jumping all over this already. Whether the checked-out public bites is another matter entirely.

I was fortunate enough—probably predictably so—to be out having drinks with a broker right after the news broke. We both agreed this decision most likely had less to do with the administration listening to employer concerns than its own lack of readiness.

Carriers have been ready for this. And I’d wager larger employers were more prepared than the administration—or the pundits—give them credit for. They’ve known this was coming and have known for months whether they would pay or play. This reprieve isn’t changing any employer’s mind. This administration, now pretty well known (or notorious) for granting waivers, seems to have waived itself.

Which brings me to the uncertainty factor. While this feels like Dodd-Frank all over again to me, the broker I spoke with was more than cautiously optimistic.

“I have at least another year of speaking and consulting ahead of me now,” he explained.

That much is probably true. But I’ve argued all along that brokers still have a place in a post-reform world. This 11th-hour delay doesn’t change that. Sure, it will make for a harried few weeks (or more) but at the end of the day, the mandate still looms on the horizon. And now we have another 12 months to worry about it. Let’s just hope this doesn’t turn into another case of being careful what we wish for.

Denis Storey
Editor
dstorey@BenefitsPro.com