Summer just arrived a few weeks ago. But it’s already been a hot and sticky one for Obamacare.
The most recent heat comes from the decision by the Obama administration to delay the mandate for employers to provide insurance to employees or pay a steep fine. Last Tuesday, a Treasury Department assistant secretary announced in a blog post that the Obamacare employer mandate was being pushed back until 2015. The reasons given in that blog post for the push-back were “concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively.”
While business groups cheered the delay, it could now open a Pandora’s box for the administration. The National Retail Federation is pushing for the employer mandate to only apply to companies with 100 full-time employees rather than the 50-employee threshold now in place. Now there is pressure to delay the individual mandate in Obamacare also.
This move by the White House wasn’t too surprising considering a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, about the state of exchanges that make up a key component of Obamacare. The GAO found that implementation of Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, national online health insurance exchanges was behind schedule in 33 states. That shouldn’t be too big of an issue now with the employer mandate delay.
However, the GAO also found that implementation of individual insurance exchanges is also behind schedule in 34 states. The Health and Human Services, or HHS, department maintains that the exchanges will be ready on schedule in October. The GAO, though, said that whether a successful launch is possible by then ”cannot yet be determined.”
Simmering below the headlines
While these two news stories grabbed headlines, a couple of other Obamacare developments didn’t receive quite as much publicity. One involved privately held Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.. The company sued the federal government over a requirement in Obamacare that insurers cover abortifacients. This requirement applies to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. because it is self-insured. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. requested an exemption on religious grounds, but the Obama administration maintained that secular organizations didn’t qualify for an exemption.
An earlier district court decision agreed with the White House. However, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on June 27 that the contraception coverage requirement violated the company’s religious beliefs. As a result, a temporary restraining order is now in place that protects Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. from huge financial penalties. While many expect this case or a similar case to ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, the recent ruling could make it more likely that other for-profit companies will seek exemptions from part of Obamacare.