Washington Watch: Obamacare delay seen as political

by jordan blum

Capitol news bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

The Fourth of July week is supposed to represent a slow news week, with Congress in recess and millions of people vacationing or barbecuing.

But that changed a bit with the Obama administration nonchalantly dropping the news that it was delaying until 2015 — after the midterm elections — a key provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

The decision impacts the employer mandate, or the “shared responsibility rules,” for businesses with more than 50 full-time employees to offer health insurance coverage or pay fines. While only a small percentage of businesses were impacted — nearly all much-bigger businesses already provide health insurance — many of those business owners with companies close to 50 employees were looking to either reduce employees or make workers part time in order to avoid the mandate.

The Treasury Department contends it is listening to business owners and offering more time for tweaking and implementation. Democrats mostly either praised the administration for showing flexibility or just stayed mum. The administration has been critical of congressional Republicans and some GOP governors of obstructionist tactics to make it more difficult to properly implement the health-care law.

But “Obamacare” opponents seized on the news, calling it evidence that the health-care law is already failing and must be repealed. Others called it a political ploy to help Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. U.S. House Republicans have now voted to repeal or scale back the Affordable Care Act 37 different times.

“While the president publicly criticizes House Republicans for fighting to repeal Obamacare, he has been privately trying to waive portions of the law for select groups,” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said in a prepared statement. “We have been pointing out for years that Obamacare will be a disaster for hard-working families, and … President Obama finally agreed that this law is not ready for prime time by delaying the employer mandate. The president’s decision today is further proof that we need to fully repeal this failed law.”

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, quickly chimed in as a practicing doctor who also is running for the Senate next year against Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

“Obamacare’s expense is killing jobs and is too great for businesses to handle,” Cassidy stated. “This delay in implementing the employer mandate acknowledges this while encouraging employers to drop insurance coverage for their employees; taxpayers will pay more and deficits will increase.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who refuses to adopt the Obamacare Medicaid expansion in Louisiana as too expensive, took to Twitter to criticize the president.

“You know things are bad when you can’t even successfully implement your own bad ideas,” Jindal said on the social media website.

Jindal critics on social media sites quickly argued that Jindal should look in the mirror regarding the implementation of his own policies, but that’s another issue.

Physician and Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, took a more-measured approach though. While Boustany opposes much of Obamacare and has voted to repeal it, he said this week during and after a Rotary Club of Lafayette North meeting that Louisiana may only hurt itself and its residents by refusing to participate in the Medicaid expansion, according to a report by The Daily Advertiser newspaper. He argued for participating in the expansion while also working to reform Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.

“To sit back and do nothing is not an answer,” Boustany said, according to the Lafayette newspaper.

Boustany also used more-nuanced wording — compared to many of his GOP colleagues — in saying he was glad Obama delayed the employer mandate.

“I am pleased the president now understands implementation of the employer mandate will hurt our economy,” Boustany stated. “Delaying Obamacare’s employer mandate is not a long-term solution. It prolongs the problem and slows down economic recovery. Employers have been limiting new full-time hires and will continue to do so as long as this policy remains on the books.”

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.