In remarks to the National Governors Association, Mr. Obama said he backed legislation that would enable states to request federal permission to withdraw from the law's mandates in 2014 rather than in 2017 as long as they could prove that they could find other ways to cover as many people as the original law would and at the same cost. The earlier date is when many of the act's central provisions take effect, including requirements that most individuals obtain health insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage to workers or pay a penalty.
This is obviously something they've been working on for awhile because today Secretary Sebelius also wrote about it on the White House Blog.
Steve Benen does a good job of summing up what's going on here.
So, how big a deal is this? It marks a fairly significant departure from the administration's status quo, but at its root, what we're seeing is the White House call Republicans' bluff. The GOP is convinced it can offer comparable coverage at comparable prices using Republican-friendly policies. Today, in effect, the president said, "Be my guest." Why? Because Obama knows it'll take more than tort reform and HSAs to make the system work, and he sees a political upside to watching GOP officials scramble to actually craft their own plans, rather than bash his.
This is always great positioning for a pragmatist like Obama. Once you've considered all of the options and put together the best plan you can come up with, those who oppose merely for ideological or political reasons need to be put in a position where they have to do more than obstruct and complain. Ask them to do better. Its especially effective when you're pretty confident that they can't.
UPDATE 3/1/11: Surprise, surprise, it seems the Republicans aren't interested.
Mr. Obama’s announcement did not appear to appease his Republican critics. The House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, told reporters that the health law was “an impediment to job growth” and that Republicans remained committed to its repeal.
Seriously..."an impediment to job growth"...that's the best he's got? When their own budget would likely cause the loss of one million jobs? Who do these folks think they're kidding?