Goodbye to Mandates!

By Grace-Marie Turner

The Obama administration has announced it will delay until 2015 the implementation and reporting requirements of ObamaCare’s employer mandate.  In so doing, the administration is protecting Big Business from one of the expensive and cumbersome parts of the law.

But the administration wants to keep the individual mandate in place.

“It would be unfair to protect big business from ObamaCare but not individuals and families,” according to House Speaker John Boehner.

Two important bills will be considered in Congress this week to delay both mandates.  One would codify the delay of the employer mandate until 2015 — proposed by the administration in contradiction to the actual language in the statue — in order to assert Congress’ legitimate authority to change the law. The second bill would delay for a year the individual mandate to give people the same protection the Obama administration is giving to business.

House leaders have indicated more votes are likely to follow, including legislation to defund the IRS and its 46 enforcement powers over Obamacare.

Economist Robert Book of the American Action Forum makes a good case in Forbes that the administration’s decision on the employer mandate is a de facto delay of the individual mandate as well.  He writes:

As the administration puts it, “We recognize that this transition relief will make it impractical to determine which employers owe shared responsibility payments (under section 4980H) for 2014. Accordingly, we are extending this transition relief to the employer shared responsibility payments. These payments will not apply for 2014.”

Likewise, this transition relief will make it impractical to determine which individuals have not obtained qualified coverage and as a result owe an individual penalty. Even if the administration chooses not to explicitly apply the same logic to individuals, as a practical matter they won’t be able to prove that any particular individual did not obtain coverage.

Indeed, the administration has already gone even further with last Friday’s “honor system” regulation. States and exchanges “may accept the applicant’s attestation regarding enrollment in an eligible employer-sponsored plan…without further verification.” In other words, they aren’t going to collect the information necessary to verify anyone’s eligibility – both for access to exchange coverage, and for the subsidies that will often go along with it – so they’ll just take the applicant’s word for it.

It only makes sense for Congress to codify delay of both expensive and intrusive mandates.

The health overhaul law is a Rube Goldberg contraption that has countless interlocking parts.  But the individual mandate is central to the operation of the law.  “You have to have the mandate in order for this to work,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said last year.

Delay of these provisions is central to protecting American taxpayers from a law that is causing massive economic dislocations, is being poorly implemented and rewritten by administrative edict, and which will cost American taxpayers trillions more than originally estimated.

Delay of the mandates is a first step to delaying full implementation of this unworkable law and an important step to getting back on the right path to a step by step approach to common sense reform.

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About the author

Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a public policy research organization that she founded in 1995 to promote an informed debate over free-market ideas for health reform.

Full biography