Obama Administration Announces Delay of ACA’s Employer Mandate

Major news out of the White House was covered widely last night through Wednesday morning: the delay of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate saw three minutes of coverage across all network broadcasts, and is on the front-page of several national papers.

The political implications of the delay, and the suggestion that it was intended to help Congressional Democrats grappling with criticism of the ACA ahead of next year’s elections, are covered by inside-the-beltway publications. But the midterms angle is not the focus of much of this morning’s print coverage, nor was it mentioned during the network newscasts. These outlets report mainly on the criticism that led to the delay, and what it means for the Affordable Care Act at such a critical time in its implementation. Notably, it was not HHS, but the Treasury Department, that announced the delay. As such, no major HHS officials are quoted regarding the news.

NBC Nightly News  (7/2, Story 2, 1:20, Williams) reported that Tuesday night, the Obama Administration announced it was postponing a major Affordable Care Act provision, “delaying penalties for large employers who don’t provide health insurance coverage to their workers for a full year.” NBC’s Peter Alexander added, “The White House insists this will be its opportunity to help simplify the process.”

The CBS Evening News  (7/2, Story 2, 1:10, O’Donnell) reported on the “late word from the White House,” that “a central component of President Obama’s healthcare overhaul will be delayed for a year.” Wyatt Andrews noted that the move comes “after months of complaints and backlash.” He added that with the extra time, the Administration is “promising to reduce” the burdens of the employer mandate on smaller companies, and to ensure that they do not follow through on threats of layoffs or reduced hours. According to Andrews, “Workers will still be allowed to buy their own health insurance on a state exchange. … The only thing that changes here is that their employers won’t be penalized next year if they do.”

And in a brief segment, ABC World News (7/2, story 7, 0:30, Sawyer) called the delay “surprising,” noting that the Obama Administration “says it wants to simplify the requirements to make it less confusing.”

On its front page, the New York Times  (7/3, A1, Calmes, Subscription Publication) reports that in announcing the delay of the employer mandate, the Obama Administration was both “responding to business complaints and postponing the effective date beyond next year’s midterm elections.” The article adds that while “the change does not affect other central provisions of the law,” it may complicate efforts of “officials running the exchanges to know who is entitled to subsidies if they are not able to confirm whether employers are offering insurance to their employees.”

On its front page, the Washington Post  (7/2, A1, Goldfarb, Somashekhar) calls the news “a fresh setback for President Obama’s landmark health-care overhaul as it enters a critical phase.” And while the White House “portrayed the delay as a common-sense step that would reduce financial and regulatory burdens on small businesses,” Republicans, “who are planning to target ‘Obamacare’ in the 2014 midterm campaigns, said the delay is an acknowledgment that the health-care overhaul is flawed.”

Also on its front page, the Wall Street Journal  (7/3, A1, Radnofsky, Subscription Publication) notes that the mandate, which was to levy penalties on all companies with 50 or more full-time workers not providing them with insurance, had faced a torrent of criticism from restaurant and retail industries, who had threatened to cut workers or hours to avoid the penalties. As such, the mandate had received significant negative media attention for threatening the wages or employment of low-wage workers in an already weak economy.

To that point, on its front page, USA Today  (7/3, A1, Kennedy) reports that “business groups had argued for months that the law created an administrative burden for businesses as they tried to update technology and plan to offer health coverage to their employees without knowing how much the coverage would cost.”

On its front page, the Los Angeles Times  (7/2, A1, Levey) reports that the announcement was made “late Tuesday” in a post to the Treasury Department’s website. Assistant Secretary for tax policy Mark J. Mazur wrote, “We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively. We recognize that the vast majority of businesses that will need to do this reporting already provide health insurance to their workers, and we want to make sure it is easy for others to do so.”

Another representative of the White House spoke out Tuesday, as CNN  (7/3, Liptak) reports “Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett – who acts as the White House’s liaison to big business – wrote the new delay was indicative of the administration’s determination to implement the health care law effectively and fairly, and that it wouldn’t affect other aspects of Obamacare.” She wrote, “While major portions of the law have yet to be implemented, it’s already a little more affordable for businesses to offer quality health coverage to their employees. As we implement this law, we have and will continue to make changes as needed. In our ongoing discussions with businesses we have heard that you need the time to get this right.”

Larry Kudlow began Tuesday’s CNBC Kudlow Report (7/3) with news of the delay. CNBC’s Bertha Coombs said that businesses were “applauding the decisions,” calling it a “wise move.” At one point, Kudlow said, “I wonder whether they shouldn’t delay the entire program.”

Other sources reporting on the announcement include Reuters  (7/3, Morgan), McClatchy  (7/3, Pugh), the Huffington Post  (7/2, Young), the ABC News  (7/3, Good) “The Note” blog, the NPR  (7/3, Chapell) “The Two-Way” blog, The Hill  (7/3, Sink) “Healthwatch” blog, the FOX News  (7/3) website, the Atlantic  (7/3, Graham), the Atlantic Wire  (7/3, Olheiser), Politico  (7/3, Cheney), Modern Healthcare  (7/3, Daly, Block, Subscription Publication), Kaiser Health News  (7/3, Carey), New York Daily News  (7/3, Warren), the Tulsa (OK) World  (7/3, Greene), the Tennessean  (7/3, Wilemon), Alabama Live  (7/3, Gore), the Washington Business Journal  (7/3, Fischer, Subscription Publication) “WBJ BizBeat” blog, the Portland (OR) Business Journal  (7/3, Hayes, Subscription Publication) “Healthcare Inc. Northwest” blog, the Birmingham (AL) Business Journal  (7/3, Ranaivo, Subscription Publication) “BizTalk Birmingham” blog, BBC News  (7/3), and the Daily Mail (UK)  (7/3, Martosko).

Political Angle Of Delay Considered. Emphasizing the political angle, The Hill  (7/3, Viebeck, Baker, Parnes) titles its report on the delay, “ObamaCare Employer Mandate Delayed Until After 2014 Midterms.” According to The Hill, Republicans “seized on the news, arguing that the delays suggested the law was a ‘train wreck,’” a term used in April by Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat and “one of the primary architects” of the ACA, in his warning about potential problems with the implementation of the law. The Hill reports that in contrast to Congressional Republicans, “the offices of Democratic leaders fell notably silent Tuesday evening” as reporters sought comment about the delay.

According to Politico  (7/3, Norman, Haberkorn), the delay is “at least partial proof of what Republicans have been predicting for months: that the health law is way too complex to be ready to go live in 2014.” The Washington Times  (7/3, Howell) says Republicans “are sure to do a victory lap over the delay in an integral part of Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement.”

CQ Roll Call  (7/3, Dennis, Subscription Publication) reports that “the decision is embarrassing for the administration,” and, to Republicans, it is “simply more evidence that the law should be repealed.” Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “That the Obama Administration is putting off this job-killing requirement on employers, but not individuals and families, shows how deeply flawed the President’s signature domestic policy achievement is.”

On the other hand, the AP  (7/3, Alonso-Zaldivar) is reporting that the delay may help Democrats “by blunting a line of attack Republicans were planning to use.”

Similarly, Zeke Miller, in a post for Time  (7/2, Miller), reported that former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin contended that the delay is “deviously brilliant” because Congressional Democrats “no longer face the immediate specter of running against the fallout from a heavy regulatory imposition on employers.”

Other politically focused reports come from sources including CQ  (7/3, Reichard, Attias, Subscription Publication), Kaiser Health News  (7/3, Hancock, Appleby), and the National Journal  (7/3, Sanger-Katz, Subscription Publication).

Stakeholders React To Employer Mandate Delay. Reporting some of the initial reaction to the announcement, Bloomberg News  (7/3, Dorning, Wayne) reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the delay is more evidence that “Obamacare costs too much and it isn’t working the way the administration promised.” And Randy Johnson, a senior VP at the US Chamber of Commerce, wrote, “The administration has finally recognized the obvious – employers need more time and clarification of the rules of the road before implementing the employer mandate.”

Several other outlets report on reactions, including USA Today  (7/2, Kennedy), which reports that “businesses reacted with relief.” Politico  (7/3, Cunningham) also notes that businesses “applauded” the delay, “but warned that the yearlong delay doesn’t fix some of the law’s other messy issues.” Meanwhile, another piece in Politico  (7/3, Millman) reports that the GOP “gloat[ed],” while The Hill  (7/3, Sink) “Healthwatch” blog demonstrates this by publishing tweets and statements out of several key Republicans, including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).

Commentators Offer Analysis Of Employer Mandate Delay. Beyond just reporting the facts of the announcement, several outlets offer analysis of the delay. As Sarah Kliff puts it on the front page of the Washington Post  (7/3, A1, Kliff), the Obama Administration “just swapped one political headache for another.” First, by delaying the mandate, “the Obama administration heads off the unseemly spectacle of companies vowing to cut jobs or workers’ hours to avoid the costly mandate.” However, the action “is not a free pass,” as it “contributes to critics’ claims that the White House does not have the ability to launch its biggest legislative accomplishment on schedule.”

Politico  (7/3, Haberkorn, Millman, Norman) considers the “bombshell announcement,” and answers “six questions about what it all means.” One question asks, “Does this derail Obamacare?” The article responds, “It doesn’t derail it. But it hurts, at least in how the public sees it and how the critics can talk about it.”

Evan Soltas writes on the Bloomberg News  (7/3) ‘“The Ticker” blog about the “side effects” of the delay, noting that by keeping the individual mandate in place, many employees will be “forced into individual exchanges,” adding “additional volume” to a system already predicted to be over-burdened.

Also on the Bloomberg News  (7/3) “The Ticker” blog, Christopher Flavelle writes that the delay “raises two immediate questions.” First, “can the White House protect other components of the law from renewed attack?” And second, “what does this say about the broader problems facing implementation?” He concludes that while the law itself may not be “in danger,” this “latest concession raises the question of what will be the next thing to go – and how many more battles the administration can afford to lose before the law is in real trouble.”

CQ (7/3, Reichard, Subscription Publication) reports that this change came about not by the “highly charged political rhetoric” that so often marks debate on the ACA, but a different approach, one “intensely engaged with the Obama administration on implementation, and pragmatic.” The piece profiles Neil Trautwein of the National Retail Federation, who “earned credibility with the administration” by focusing not on the demise of the law but rather on how employers could “come to terms with it as best they could.”

Jennifer Rubin, in her Washington Post  (7/3) “Right Turn” blog lists seven reasons this delay is a “huge setback” to the Affordable Care Act. First among these is that “it proves the president’s assurances that everything was 100 percent on track to be false.” Another is that “it will open the floodgates to arguments that the rest of the law should be delayed as well.”

Ezra Klein, in his Washington Post  (7/3) “Wonkblog” says that rather than just delay the employer mandate, it should be eliminated, or “at least utterly overhaul[ed].” On top of criticizing the mandate, Klein criticizes the way the Administration went about delaying it, with “a regulatory end-run around Congress.”

Avik Roy writes in the Forbes  (7/3) “Apothecary” blog about the “significant impact” the delay will have “on the rollout of Obamacare, the private health insurance market, and the nation’s economy.” After significant analysis of each of these, Roy concludes, “If the employer mandate were to ultimately be repealed, or never implemented, today’s news may turn out to be one of the most significant developments in health care policy in recent memory.”

Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington and a former chief economist to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr, downplays the delay in the New York Times Economix Blog  (7/3), while acknowledging that the media and the right will not. He concludes, “I think it’s an unfortunate delay of an important but relatively small piece of the bill, more growing pains of the type I’m sure Medicare had when it got going than anything existential. But that’s not how it will play in the hurly-burly of the next few days of Washington politics.”


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