As I noted Tuesday, the Obama administration’s admission that Obamacare is too difficult to implement in a timely fashion has led to a bizarre result. It has delayed the employer mandate while leaving in place the obligation for individuals to insure themselves (or face steep fines).
Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senate Committee, could not resist an e-mail blast, which read in part: “By delaying ObamaCare, Democrats are now forced into the uncomfortable position of advocating the overhaul of their own law. That is a political nightmare that could cause part II of the health care debate of August 2010 – this time around whether ObamaCare should be implemented or not. Let’s be honest, they didn’t hold this announcement from you until 6 PM heading into July 4 because they thought it was good news for Democrats. It isn’t.”
It is especially bad news when the administration declines to freeze the entire implementation, leaving individuals holding the bag. On a big-picture level, this will cause costs to rise and undermine the goal of “universal” coverage. Doug Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum observes, “Essentially for calendar 2014 the act of dropping coverage and dumping employees into the exchanges is on sale. Drop and dump, but no penalty [for employers]. Accelerating the rush of employers to the exits is bad news for taxpayers. At a minimum, the federal revenue from fines is gone. More realistically the costs of already-bloated insurance subsidies will escalate and the red ink will rise.”
This comes on top of news that a great many states won’t be setting up exchanges, forcing the feds to do so. There is no indication they will be able to do that. Moreover, there is a legal issue as to whether the subsidies can apply to an exchange set up by the feds as opposed to the states. Those who fancy that everyone will come out ahead with oodles of subsidies may be shocked to see many Americans worse off — with more expensive coverage they do not like. (Holtz-Eakin cracks: “The laughing you hear in the background is those remembering the president’s promise that ‘if you like your insurance, you can keep it.'”)
Republicans in the House and Senate should move strategically here. Sure, they could propose to extend or cancel all of Obamacare. But better to propose the individual mandate be lifted while the employer mandate is held in abeyance. (Republicans say individuals deserve protection too!) Another tactic would be to do nothing and force Democrats to defend the new mish-mash in 2014. (Is Obamacare good for Americans but in such disarray it can’t be put into place?) Let them answer question, such as: If you have a catastrophic plan you like from your employer why are you getting socked with paying for a gold-plated Obamacare plan offered from an exchange with insufficient subsidies?
All of this said, it is absolutely essential for Republicans to come to consensus on a substitute. Nearly all the GOP statements last night referred vaguely to “patient-centered” or “market-based” health-care reform, but few know what that means and there is no concrete piece of legislation they can point to. Who is going to step up to the plate with a plan to save the country from Obamacare? That would be true conservative leadership.