By BRETT NORMAN and DAVID NATHER | 2/10/14 4:23 PM EST Updated: 2/11/14 10:39 AM EST | Politico
Once again, it’s employers who are getting a break from their Obamacare mandate – and that’s sure to increase the pressure on the Obama administration to delay the mandate for individuals, too.Regulations announced by the Obama administration Monday give two levels of delay to employers who would have had to cover their workers next year. Some businesses will get an extra year – until 2016. And the bigger businesses that do have to worry about the mandate will have it phased in over two years.
It’s the second round of delays to the employer mandate, which will require all businesses with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health coverage or pay a fine. The mandate was originally supposed to start this year – until, under pressure from business groups, it got pushed back until 2015.
Under the new rule, the Treasury Department said businesses with fewer than 100 workers would not be required to cover their workers in 2015 or face a fine. It gave bigger businesses with more than 100 workers extra time to ramp up coverage.
It’s only the largest employers who will be affected, as the White House points out. The group that will get the delay until 2016 — businesses with between 50 and 100 workers — are just 2 percent of all employers in the country. And the businesses with more than 100 workers, the main ones that will feel the weight of the mandate, are another 2 percent of the nation’s employers, and many of those big companies already provide health insurance for workers.But the optics are still going to cause big headaches. Now that businesses are getting another break, the Obama administration will have to brace for the return of a huge political problem: the demands for regular people to get a break from their own fines if they don’t buy health coverage this year.
It will be a major test of the new White House congressional operation — especially with the addition of Phil Schiliro, whom President Barack Obama brought back into the fold to coordinate Obamacare legislative strategy, including holding the line on repeal efforts.
Most Americans still have to get health coverage this year or pay a fine, a source of political headaches as people struggled to sign up for coverage during the early website glitches. The federal enrollment website is working better now, but many Americans will still have to decide whether it’s better for them to sign up for coverage or pay the fine.
Republicans have pushed the “fairness” line since the first delay: If businesses can get a break, why can’t individuals? They even forced a vote on the issue in the House last year, and the argument was so potent that 22 House Democrats voted to postpone the law’s individual mandate for a year.
Sure enough, the calls started again Monday, as soon as Republicans could hit “send” on their “delay Obamacare” emails.
“It’s time we give every American the same relief from the law that the President has granted to businesses by working toward a legislative solution to delay Obamacare for everyone,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.
“Where is the relief for American families who are suffering from this law?” asked Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.). “By providing more relief for employers without doing the same for individuals, the President is again sending the message that businesses deserve favorable treatment over the hardworking American people.”The only thing the Republicans rush of statements didn’t quite agree on was whether to delay the mandate, delay the whole law, or just go full repeal, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did.
“The White House seems to have a new exemption from its failed law for a different group every month. It’s time to extend that exemption to families and individuals—not just businesses,” said McConnell.
It’s an argument that ignores the policy realities of Obamacare. Unlike the employer mandate, the individual mandate is directly tied to the requirement that insurers cover everyone with pre-existing conditions. If the administration delayed the requirement for most Americans to buy health coverage, it would decrease the pressure for healthy people to sign up, and the health plans could end up with too many sick people. That would make the coverage more expensive for everyone who’s left.