Carney: Gibbs wrong on mandate

The White House said Thursday that former press secretary Robert Gibbs was wrong to predict that the administration would not implement the employer mandate in ObamaCare.

Asked if he agreed with his predecessor's prediction, White House press secretary Jay Carney said flatly that he did not, and that the administration would not again delay the penalty on businesses who do not offer their employees healthcare.

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“As the final rules put out in February made clear, this will be phased in next year,” Carney said.

“Having spent time at the pundits table … you can make predictions all the time that turn out to be true,” Carney said.

During a speech in Colorado, Gibbs noted that the employer mandate had been twice delayed and predicted it would never be implemented.

“I don’t think the employer mandate will go into effect. It’s a small part of the law. I think it will be one of the first things to go,” Gibbs said.

Under the most recently announced delay, employers with between 50 and 99 employees have until January 2016 to offer health insurance or pay a fine. Companies with more than 100 employees must offer insurance or pay a fine of $2,000 per worker by January 2015. Those with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the penalty.

Carney downplayed that phase-in approach, saying it was similar to the individual mandate, where the penalties charged to taxpayers who don't purchase insurance increase over time. 

“What we have seen is this administration act very comprehensively to make sure the transition into the marketplace that has been taking effect can be done as smoothly as possible,” Carney said.

Gibbs also recommended other “common-sense” improvements to the law, including offering “an additional layer of coverage cheaper than the plans already offered.”

Right now, catastrophic plans are available for certain young consumers, or those who qualify for hardship exemptions. Carney said he couldn't evaluate if expanding access to those plans made sense.

“There are all sorts of possible improvements that you could put out on the table, and what the president has always said is he would entrain specific measures that would improve the law,” he said. “I can't, as a spokesman and not a healthcare policy expert, evaluate each proposal here from the podium.”

Carney did caution that the White House would not support proposals that would undermine the healthcare reform effort.

“What we've seen from Republicans have been either all-out repeal efforts or repeal efforts in the guise of small changes,” Carney said.