The Washington Post

A government shutdown won’t stop Obamacare

(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters) (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Congressional Republicans are debating whether to pass budget legislation that would cut off Obamacare funding. That could lead to a government shutdown, unless President Obama decided to sign off on a bill cutting off money for his signature legislative accomplishment (spoiler alert: This is unlikely!).

So, let's make the relatively bulletproof assumption that the White House isn't on board with defunding Obamacare. The shutdown happens. And Obamacare implementation ... well, it continues.

That's according to a new Congressional Research Service report, requested by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and flagged by Post Politics' Rachel Weiner.

Coburn has made no secret of his absolute opposition to defunding Obamacare. "As soon as the first Medicare bills go unpaid, where do you think the pressure will be?" he told me last week. "And what’s the likelihood the president will collapse on the most significant legislative accomplishment of his administration?"

The CRS report is another way to attack defunding: by pointing out that, even if the federal government shuts down, Obamacare can still continue pretty much apace.

"It appears that substantial ACA implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that resulted in a temporary government shutdown," CRS analysts concluded.

For one, Health and Human Services would be able to rely on "sources of funding other than annual discretionary appropriations to support implementation activities, including multiple-year and non-year discretionary funds still available for obligation as well as mandatory funds."

A quick refresher on mandatory funds: These are billions in federal dollars that were appropriated by the Affordable Care Act and can't be touched without repealing Obamacare itself.

The tax subsidies to purchase health insurance, for example, are considered mandatory funds. "Therefore, the funds for such credits would continue to be available via permanent appropriation during a government shutdown," CRS concludes. While the IRS hasn't gamed out the exact situation, the researchers believe "it may be likely that at least some of the eligibility and processing functions associated with payment of this credit might continue during a government shutdown."

Other Obamacare programs that the CRS doesn't believe a shutdown would stop include the federal health insurance marketplace, the state-based insurance marketplaces and the individual mandate. Otherwise known as the most significant portions of the Affordable Care Act.

There are more details to the CRS report, which you can read here. Bottom line: Even when the government shuts down, Obamacare continues.



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Ezra Klein · July 30, 2013

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