the national interest

Obamacare Still Not Collapsing

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 10: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a news conference where he and other Republican Senators introduced a balanced budget proposal at the U.S. Capitol May 10, 2011 in Washington, DC. The proposal will balance the federal budget by 2020, according to its author Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Marco Rubio;
Photo: Chip Somodevilla

The employer mandate that the Obama administration is delaying is not a central part of the law. You could repeal it without any functional changes to the guts of the law. (The individual mandate is different — that’s important to make the insurance exchanges work.) But “Small, Unnecessary Piece of Obamacare Delayed” is not the sort of headline Republicans are looking for. So they are instead conflating the employer mandate with the whole law.

Marco Rubio, in full tea-party forgiveness-seeking mode, says:

This is a remarkable acknowledgment by the Obama Administration that ObamaCare is a disaster in progress that will hurt job creators and those looking for work. The solution to ObamaCare is not to delay the day when the Internal Revenue Service comes after struggling American businesses who cannot afford to provide Washington mandated health coverage. The solution is to repeal it entirely

Notice how the “it” in Rubio’s final sentence manages to simultaneously describe the employer mandate and the entire law. If the employer mandate is a problem, why not repeal the employer mandate? They could get Democrats to support such a measure. The answer, of course, is that the Republican plan is to use any flaws in Obamacare as a rationale to eliminate the entire thing.

A Republican aide tells Joel Gehrke that repealing the employer mandate would be a bad idea because it would pass, and thus help Senate Democrats:

The problem is that with the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, it would give vulnerable Democrats a cover vote,” the aide said. “We’d have two votes: one to delay it just for businesses, one to delay it for everyone, and the one for businesses will pass with 60 votes+ and the second one would fail, but it would give 10 [or] 12 Democrats a cover vote, but it still wouldn’t pass.”

So, the bill to repeal the whole law would fail, the bill to repeal the problematic employer mandate would pass, and then the law would be better, which is the opposite of what Republicans want.

Now, conservatives are making a more detailed policy argument about this. It just happens to be wrong. The argument is that the employer mandate is needed to make the exchanges function. Cato’s Michael Cannon, founder of the Anti-Universal Coverage Club, and Paul Ryan–whisperer Yuval Levin insist the exchanges will need employers to report the insurance status of employees for exchanges to work. Here’s Levin:

And that points to what may be, as a matter of policy substance, the most serious problem for the administration with this delay of the employer mandate: its effect on the viability of the exchanges. Under the law, eligibility for exchange subsidies depends on an individual not receiving an affordable offer of qualified insurance from an employer. If employers will now not be required to report on their insurance offerings in 2014, I don’t see how the government will be able to determine eligibility for subsidies, and therefore how the exchanges will be able to function.

But employers were never required to report their offerings in 2014. Judy Solomon helpfully womansplains this:

Delaying the employer reporting rules (under which the first reports on whether firms offered coverage in 2014 wouldn’t have been due until 2015 anyway) won’t affect the information that employed individuals will need to provide to obtain subsidies to help them purchase coverage in the new marketplaces.  The application that workers will fill out when applying for subsidies will include a form that their employers must help them fill out so that the insurance marketplace can determine whether the employer coverage is affordable and adequate.  This involvement by employers will go forward on schedule.

I e-mailed Levin’s post to Solomon, just to be sure he was simply misunderstanding the law. She wrote, affirming, “the employer reporting requirement is an annual retrospective report — first report would happen in 2015 for 2014. It would not be available information for people applying for coverage in 2014 and it always is reporting on coverage for the prior year not current coverage which is what is relevant to eligibility for premium tax credits.”

So, conservatives can rest assured that their fears about the delayed employer mandate wreaking havoc with Obamacare are based on a lack of factual understanding, and enjoy their holiday weekend.

Obamacare Still Not Collapsing