"I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow."
Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
Last week, the Obama administration announced it was putting off a key component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act regarding employer mandates. The announcement was made through the U.S. Department of Treasury late Wednesday afternoon before a long holiday weekend when few people were paying close attention.
"The administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin. This is designed to meet two goals. First, it will allow us to consider ways to simplify the new reporting requirements consistent with the law. Second, it will provide time to adapt health coverage and reporting systems while employers are moving toward making health coverage affordable and accessible for their employees," said Mark J. Mazur, assistant secretary for tax policy at the Treasury Department.
It is important to note that while the employer mandates are a key component of the massive health insurance overhaul, the delay does not affect the other multitude of provisions such as the individual mandate which will largely be enforced through penalties on individual tax returns and the creation of the health insurance exchanges. These provisions are still on schedule, at least for now.
But opponents of the health care reform law are using the opportunity to renew their calls for repeal.
"Obamacare’s oppressive and inflexible employer mandate has already impacted job growth and will ultimately put 3.2 million jobs at risk," said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. "Unfortunately, simply delaying enforcement of the mandate does not change that. Nor does it provide relief for individuals who will see their premiums skyrocket. Instead of delaying the inevitable — at significant cost to the taxpayer — the administration should offer permanent relief from the so-called ‘Affordable Care Act’ and repeal it in its entirety before any more damage is done to our health care system and to our economy."
Some are also questioning if the president has the authority to unilaterally decide that this provision will not be enforced. Section 1513 of the act creates the employer mandates and does not give flexibility to its implementation, saying it "shall apply to months beginning after Dec. 31, 2013."
However, the Treasury Department technically delayed section 1514 that regulates employers’ new reporting requirements. That section seems to have some flexibility depending on how you interpret it. Not requiring the reporting under section 1514 has the effect of delaying enforcement of the section 1513 employer mandates.
The bottom line is that the Obama administration found an end run around the hassle of going through the legislative branch. As with other issues, the administration finds it easier to just pick which laws they want to enforce without dealing with a dysfunctional Congress.
But it strikes me that this could be an awfully dangerous precedent. Although it seems opponents and supporters of Obamacare are OK with delaying the employer mandates, the president is essentially delaying what the Supreme Court held was a tax. What will happen at some point when Congress levies a tax that the occupant of the White House opposes? Could it create a precedent in this potential situation where the chief executive could delay, perhaps indefinitely, the enforcement of such a tax?
Regardless of the legality, the delay is yet another indication that the massive overhaul of the nation’s health care system is in for a bumpy ride. Most of the new provisions are scheduled to start next year, which also is when the mid-term election occurs. The political gamesmanship being played out by the White House is impossible to miss.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.