Mandate Delay: Chuckhole or Sinkhole?

AARepublicans have failed to thwart it. The Supreme Court refused to kill it. A majority of Americans decided not to abandon it through a national referendum election. And it would appear Nancy Pelosi has still not taken the time to find out what’s in it.

Earlier today when asked whether there could be, “any virtue” in last week’s announcement that businesses with 50 or more full-time employees will not have to begin complying with ACA reporting requirements until 2015 (a year delay), she responded, “no – absolutely not.  I don’t think it’s virtuous at all.  In fact, the point is, is that the mandate was not delayed.  Certain reporting by businesses that could be perceived as onerous — that reporting requirement was delayed, partially to review how it would work and how it could be better. It was not a delay of the mandate for the businesses, and there shouldn’t be a delay of the mandate for individuals.”

Mind you now businesses are being exempted from the codified penalty associated with failing to report how many full-time employees they have, the number of hours they work and how much those individuals have to pay for company-sponsored health insurance coverage. While employers are, “encouraged” to provide affordable insurance for their workers in 2014 there will be no penalty if they do not. That’s not a delay? Who is her policy advisor anyway? Dennis Kucinich?

Aside from the side show of political haberdashery that is by no means the singular purview of Ms. Pelosi nor the Democratic party there are some potentially critical ramifications of the Administration’s decision to delay implementation. On the one hand, because a majority of businesses with 50 or more employees already offer healthcare benefits (e.g., 94% of businesses with 50-199 workers offer coverage while only 1% of US workers are employed by companies with 50 or more employees that do not offer health benefits) the delay’s impact on coverage expansion is not going to be significant.

On the other hand, the delay is nothing less than a giftwrapped political grenade in the hands of the GOP and every interest group in opposition to any element of the ACA. Now called into question will be the workability of not only the employer mandate but other elements of the Act, such as the all-important Individual Mandate, Insurance Exchanges, Medicaid expansion and on and on. If critics are right that the ACA is a bureaucratic house of cards built on a shaky table, well then this delay could be viewed as removing the matchbook from under the table’s leg.

There is also the pragmatic side of this discussion that argues it is better to delay and use that time wisely to ensure implementation is as effective and economical as possible. But it would seem to me the implementation of the IM will be more complicated than the EM because of numbers and nature: there are a lot more individuals than businesses, and by their very nature many (most?) of those individuals don’t have the inherent technical wherewithal to collect and provide the information that will be required for the IM. Delaying implementation of the Individual Mandate would, I believe, be a death knell for the ACA, and I think most Democrats (and, of course, Republicans) share that view now.

It may be a monumental task for many Democrats next summer having one foot on the campaign trail and one finger in the Capital Hill dike that is holding back a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. If they are not already in place, the Administration had better abandon all hope of allowing partisanship to influence resource decisions. Not getting the right people in the right place to withstand the oncoming attempts to sacrificially slaughter the IM and exchanges before they even get started will be a political nightmare for the Democratic party that may take several decades to overcome.