WASHINGTON—Congressional Republicans are putting a full-court press on the White House to delay the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act—otherwise known as Obamacare.
This week, the GOP-controlled House passed two bills, including one that would put off until the start of 2015 the requirement that all Americans have health insurance. Under current law, any person without health insurance on Jan. 1, 2014, must pay a fine.
The bills came in response to the Obama administration’s announcement earlier this month (while members were gone for the July Fourth recess) that the employer mandate would be delayed one year. That provision requires businesses with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health insurance for each worker or face a fine.
Republicans said the president had no legal authority to arbitrarily change the law, so on Wednesday the House also passed a bill to formally enact the one-year delay in the employer mandate. Even though it was a measure in agreement with the president’s prior action, only 35 Democrats voted for it. Just 22 Democrats voted to delay the individual mandate.
Tim Phillips, president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, called Democratic opposition to the bills “hypocrisy at its worst.” He said, “Democrats with this vote have created a special carve out for businesses and corporations while refusing to extend the same benefits to the public.”
Conservatives are hitting the “fairness” theme hard, including with the name of the bill: the Fairness for American Families Act.
“Even though businesses have been granted a break from providing unaffordable, unworkable healthcare for another year, individuals are still required to purchase it,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “This expectation is unfair to our nation’s families and does nothing to inspire confidence in the president’s healthcare reform.”
Republicans are also getting some help from unlikely allies, such as labor unions. Last week three major unions sent a joint letter to Democratic leaders in Congress, urging them to make significant changes to the law.
“The unintended consequences of the [Affordable Care Act] are severe,” they wrote. “Perverse incentives are already creating nightmare scenarios.”
Among the unintended consequences, the law creates incentives to keep employee work hours below 30 hours per week—the threshold for full-time employment. The letter also said Obamacare would make current union non-profit health plans unsustainable.
“The ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class,” wrote leaders of Teamsters, UNITE-HERE, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
President Obama fought back on Thursday, holding a White House press conference with Americans who say they are benefiting from the healthcare law. Obama said $500 million is going back to 9 million consumers, because insurers that spend less than 80 percent of premiums on providing care are required to refund the difference to policy holders. That averages to just over $55 per person.