The decision comes as Obama is working to secure his domestic legacy, urging Congress to pass an overhaul of immigration laws and using his executive powers to combat climate change. With the prospects for immigration reform uncertain in the House — and new environmental regulations still more than a year way — implementation of the 2010 health-care law has singular importance.
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.
The decision will spare Obama what might have been a major distraction as officials begin to implement the centerpiece of the health-care law, which remains in place: a requirement, starting in 2014, that most Americans obtain insurance through their employer or through federally backed and state-backed marketplaces, known as exchanges.
The decision by Obama, who was on Air Force One returning from Africa on Tuesday when the announcement was made, to delay a controversial part of the law underscores his willingness to use the power of the executive branch to help to protect the legislation’s image at a defining moment.
“We believe we need to give employers more time to comply with the new rules,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, wrote in a blog post Tuesday evening. “This allows employers the time to . . . make any necessary adaptations to their health benefits while staying the course toward making health coverage more affordable and accessible for their workers.”
Republicans say they expect higher costs as a result of the law. House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) said the decision “means even the Obama administration knows the ‘train wreck’ will only get worse.” He added, “This is a clear acknowledgment that the law is unworkable.”
Bob Kocher, a former top health-care aide to Obama, said he was disappointed by the delay because it will create uncertainty about what parts of the law will take effect. “It confuses people,” he said, adding that it “will undermine all the other rules because people will expect delay.”
The health-care law, which had been a source of confusion for years, is expected to have a bumpy rollout. The employer mandate would have added complexity.
Small businesses, many of which would have had to install systems to track and report which employees are receiving coverage, had been complaining about the difficulty of complying with the requirements, giving way to fears that companies might reduce their workforces to fall below the 50-worker threshold.