Allowing canceled plans to be renewed destabilizes risk pools, shifts blame to health care insurers.
President Obama's attempt Thursday to make good on his promise to let people keep their health insurance policies was politically inevitable. With the public howling, Democrats defecting and Republicans planning a vote today to let insurers keep selling insurance that doesn't comply with the Affordable Care Act's tough new standards, he had to do something.
But political necessity doesn't guarantee good policy, and the president's plan is less a solution than it is a punt.
OTHER VIEWS: 'Scrap this law'
Obama announced that the administration would allow canceled plans to be renewed for at least a year, which will probably ease the complaints of more than 4 million people in the individual market who've received cancellation notices since the Obamacare online marketplaces opened on Oct. 1. But there will be a dangerous rebound effect.
Here's why: People in the individual market now tend to be healthy because insurers typically reject applicants with pre-existing conditions or other health risks. Premiums for the new health marketplaces were based on the expectation that those healthy people would move to the exchanges.
If, however, many healthy people elect to keep their existing policies, premiums could spike next year. The White House insists the law provides two separate funding streams to help offset insurer losses and keep the exchanges sound, but the insurance industry doesn't seem to be buying it, probably because when the price increases come, insurers will unjustifiably get the blame.
The other big problem with Obama's plan is that a lot of people still might not be able to keep policies they like. Insurers don't have to renew the expiring policies, and state insurance commissions don't have to approve them.
Already, at least one insurance commissioner — in Washington state — is refusing to let insurers renew policies that don't meet the new standards.
The president's exercise in blame shifting looks good only in comparison with the GOP alternatives.
House Speaker John Boehner's plan — repeal the entire Affordable Care Act — would preserve an unsustainable status quo, leaving 40 million people uninsured and millions more at risk of going bankrupt if they get sick.
The bill expected to pass the House today, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., would let insurers sell inadequate policies to new and existing customers. That undermines both the risk pools and one of the most valuable ideas in the president's health reform law — that health insurance should really be insurance.
At his news conference Thursday, Obama repeatedly acknowledged that he and his aides had "fumbled" the rollout. Indeed, they did. What remains to be seen is whether they can recover before the entire law is undermined.
If HealthCare.gov isn't up and running efficiently within a couple of weeks, more Obamacare dominoes are going to fall. There just won't be enough time for people to register before the new year begins, or for subsidies to be accurately calculated. Nor will it be fair to charge people penalties for failing to buy insurance if they're unable to do so.
Those are all things that can be fixed, and the Affordable Care Act remains a vast improvement over today's health care system. But that won't matter if the administration can't make it work.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.