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Legislative medicine

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President Obama is handing his adversaries the very hammer they’ll use to smash his signature piece of legislation.

Since it passed in 2010, Republicans have been hell-bent on repealing or defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Up until the law was officially launched Oct. 1, proponents have been able to cast critics in an unfavorable light. ObamaCare will provide health insurance for millions of people who don’t have it now, and we should all wait until it’s put into effect to see how it impacts people, supporters said.

But now that the rollout has amounted to one disaster after another, some of the criticisms lodged against the law don’t sound too far-fetched. And the more Mr. Obama acquiesces to his rivals, the less footing he’ll have to defend it when they come to do away with it again.

Republicans foolishly tried to compel Democrats to defund the Affordable Care Act earlier this year as a condition for approving a new budget. That simply wasn’t going to happen, and the standoff resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government. This made huge headlines and put the GOP in an unfavorable spot, so Republicans eventually blinked and abandoned their quest to gut the law.

But while Republicans were being pummeled for shutting down the government, the Affordable Care Act began registering people on the new health exchanges. Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, the government website established to do this has experienced numerous glitches.

In the end, the government shutdown had only a minor impact on most Americans. At the same time, people were becoming increasingly frustrated because they couldn’t sign up for new health insurance policies with the ObamaCare website.

In addition, many other people were being informed by their health insurance carriers that they wouldn’t be able to keep the same individual policies in 2014. Provisions of the Affordable Care Act placing new restrictions on insurance companies were scheduled to kick in, and health insurance policies would have to be revised.

But Mr. Obama promised throughout this whole process that people who liked their health plans could keep them. Now he’s had to admit he was wrong about this.

Of all the many things that critics have gotten wrong about the Affordable Care Act, they’ve been on the money about at least one thing. How can Mr. Obama unilaterally decide that provisions of the law can be altered?

If these policies are part of the law, it would require an act of Congress to amend them. But if they’re not spelled out in the law, just how much regulatory leeway does Mr. Obama have to change them?

On Thursday, Mr. Obama said he would be willing to change the rules so people could keep their health plans for 2014. This is not the first time he’s tweaked the law, and it’s not likely to be the last.

Republicans are likely to repeat their demands to defund the law later this year when budget talks resume. And now that more Americans have soured on ObamaCare, combined with the fact that the shutdown is ancient history at this point, the GOP will have much more support when it goes after the Affordable Care Act again.

Mr. Obama must convene members of both the House and Senate to sit down early next year and resolve to fix some of the main problems with the law. If they have to postpone it for a few years while they work out an agreement, so be it.

But we need an effective health care reform law, and it must have support from both parties. This poorly conceived law may well collapse on itself, and that would be unfair to the many Americans who came to believe they’d finally be able to access the health care they need.

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