Obamacare Delay Gives GOP New Chance to Fight Health Law

Congress won't repeal the insurance law, but conservatives will score political points by trying.

The one-year delay in requiring larger employers to offer health insurance to their workers will give rise to a new attempt by conservatives to stop President Obama’s initiative in its tracks.

That effort will fail. Democrats, who have a majority in the Senate, can control the agenda, and if a vote is held, they’ll manage to keep Republicans well short of the 60 votes they’ll need for repeal. And, if by some lightning-strike chance, legislation to kill Obamacare reaches his desk, the president will veto it.

Still, the debate will rage for yet another election cycle. Republicans will again claim that the legislation was wrong from the start and that the delay in a central part is a political ploy to mask big trouble with the law. The GOP will also use the one-year reset to argue about what it sees as overreaching by the federal government.

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But Republicans don’t have to repeal the legislation to come out ahead. Mere talk about the delay and the eventual cost and reach of the law will help GOP candidates raise money in advance of next year’s congressional elections and inspire the party’s conservative base.

Make no mistake: The delay is an admission by the White House that more work needs to be done to ease implementation, lest confusion about the law overshadow such provisions as requiring insurance companies to cover individuals with preexisting conditions and extending coverage for young adults under a parent’s policy.

A majority of employers are concerned about handling employee questions on the public exchanges, a task that will remain daunting even with guidance from federal agencies.

Putting off implementation of this one large mandate for a year will be a letdown for liberal backers of the law. But they’ve been let down before, such as when the president agreed to drop an insistence on a public option in the law to better compete with big insurance companies. The left will keep what pressure it has on Democrats all next year not to delay anything longer.

The administration will push back against the critics, saying the delay is a reasonable step aimed at helping business and giving regulators more time to clarify and simplify a host of rules and guidance. While there’s some truth in that, the delay is also a confirmation of contentions of some critics on the right that the bill is overly complicated and top-heavy and could lead to more migraines than help in cutting health care costs and expanding coverage.

Let’s be clear about one thing in all this: Nothing as large as a national health care law can or will be implemented flawlessly, so talk of changing the law, small parts and big parts, will be a backdrop to yet another election in 2016, when Obama is not on the ticket.

To be sure, the health law would have been a political hot potato next year and in 2016, even if the required coverage kicked in this coming Jan. 1. The delay guarantees that the discussions will be hotter, longer and louder than they otherwise might have been.

Richard Sammon
Senior Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter