Gee, for such a terrific law, the White House sure seems reluctant to let ObamaCare take effect.
On Monday, the Obama administration announced yet another unilateral change to statutory language in the Affordable Care Act. The employer mandate had already had its enforcement deadline moved by HHS — until January 2015. Then the pricing deadline for these employer-based group plans got adjusted outward a few weeks in a vain attempt to avoid election consequences in the upcoming midterms. Those changes were bald attempts to avoid political consequences for the massive market disruptions that the ACA will cause in the group-insurance markets, after the administration saw disruptions in the much smaller individual market as well as the incompetent rollout of the exchanges.
If those delays were blatantly political, then the newest changes rise to the level of sheer shamelessness. The White House has postponed the mandate altogether for a certain class of employer, those between 50 and 99 employees, until January 2016. This puts off their decisions on coverage for another year past the midterms, saving Democrats from accountability in this election cycle, when other business owners have to decide whether to provide insurance or pay a fine. At the same time, the new executive action also lessens the threshold of compliance for large employers by covering only 70 percent of their employees in 2015, instead of the existing statutory requirement of 95 percent.
Just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama promised "a year of action" in his State of the Union speech, warning Congress that he'd take unilateral action to protect the American people. Who knew he'd take that action to protect employers from his own law?
That's hardly the only irony in this situation, either. Last week, the CBO produced a new analysis of the ACA — the results of which the White House touted to reinforce its claim that the law was workable. The new analysis, however, showed that the projected costs of ObamaCare as implemented had more than doubled from its more-theoretical status, from $848 billion to over $2 trillion.
Even more damaging was the CBO conclusion about the impact of ObamaCare on the economy. The analysis projected that the U.S. would have 2.5 million fewer jobs or full-time-equivalents (FTEs) as a result of ObamaCare, largely because fewer Americans would stay in jobs just for the insurance coverage. Later, the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee calculated that the loss of compensation into the economy for that net reduction would amount to over $1 trillion in the decade, lowering payouts by at least $100 billion each of the 10 years.
Democrats and ACA supporters insisted that this amounted to good news. Four years ago, Nancy Pelosi promised that ObamaCare would add four million jobs to the economy. This week, the new catchphrase became "job lock." Now people would be free to not work, the argument went, thanks to the subsidies provided by those who do work for their health care. Democrats declared this an end to so-called "wage slavery," but the White House couldn't quite figure out how to square a smaller economy with bigger taxpayer-financed subsidies into a win for American consumers.
Now, suddenly, one of the main mechanisms of this supposed job-lock freedom bill has to be postponed. Why? According to an unnamed "senior administration official," medium-sized businesses "need a little more time to adjust to providing coverage." The law passed in March 2010, nearly four years ago, and the original statutory deadline of January 2014 was in place for more than three years. One would think that business owners, who have to create budgets and capital plans on an annual basis, would already know how to provide coverage — since most businesses have done precisely that, for decades before ObamaCare.
The real problem for the White House is that many of these employers will find ways to get out of providing that coverage — and the Obama administration has known that almost ever since the law passed. HHS's own analysis showed that as many as 93 million Americans might find themselves out of their current plans when the employer mandate goes into full effect, and the financial disincentives to provide coverage as premiums skyrocket this year means many of those will find themselves in the individual market.
That, of course, gets us to the disincentive that Democrats fear most. The market disruptions and systemic failures from ObamaCare were bad enough when they mostly centered on the individual market for coverage. The employer mandate will create similar disruption in premiums and provider networks for the large majority of Americans who still get health insurance through their employers. Some of the premium escalations have already affected this market, but the big hit will come with the full implementation of the employer mandate. Since businesses have to plan for those expenses well before the start of the new year, the disruption would have started just before the midterm elections — especially for the smaller employers who have fewer resources to buffer the financial effects of the turmoil.
Instead of pushing full speed ahead for the end of "job lock" and the beneficence of government-run health-insurance markets, Obama and his administration have opted to protect Democratic incumbents in the midterms … again. Suddenly, Democrats have met a disincentive they won't embrace — the disincentive to vote for the politicians who imposed this unpopular system on taxpayers in the first place. That tells us all we need to know about their embrace of the other disincentives in the ACA.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- 5 tricks to making a mind-blowing burger
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why are so many parents being arrested?
- What if The Purge was real?
- 9 things you probably didn't know about the moon
- Why America is duty bound to help Iraqi Christians
- WATCH: Australia's army chief demonstrates how you address sex abuse
Subscribe to the Week