By Jonathan Easley - 04/08/14 03:05 PM EDT
A Treasury Department official testified Tuesday that the department never analyzed whether it has the legal authority to delay the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate because officials concluded ahead of time that such a delay would harm individuals.
At a Ways and Means Health subcommittee hearing, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) asked Deputy Assistant Secretary Kevin Iwry more than five times if department officials believed they had the authority to delay the individual mandate the way they did the employer mandate.
“If we don’t believe it is appropriate to be delaying that provision, if we believe it is fair to individuals to keep that in place because it protects them … then we don’t reach the question whether we have legal authority,” Iwry said.
Treasury argues that employers needed more time to comply with the mandate because of the complexities of the law. Individuals who can’t afford insurance can apply for Medicare or premium subsidies, or if they can’t pay the penalty associated with the mandate, can apply for a hardship exemption, Iwry said.
Republicans are outraged that the Obama administration delayed the employer mandate, saying that it’s a break for big businesses and claiming it's a double standard that the same delay is not extended to individuals. Some in the GOP have said the delay was made for political purposes and questioned whether Treasury had the authority to implement such a delay.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) challenged Attorney General Eric Holder at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the matter earlier in the day, arguing that, because the implementation date for the employer mandate had been written specifically into the law, the executive branch had no authority to alter it.
Treasury has defended its decision to delay the employer mandate, saying it was exercising its “longstanding authority to grant transition relief when implementing new legislation” under authority in the tax code that this, and previous administrations, have used to make changes to tax law.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said the administration will not consider delaying the individual mandate.
The ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health subcommittee, Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.), lashed out at the “gnashing teeth” of his Republican colleagues on the matter, calling the hearing “a bogus proceeding” and “another stunt to work up the Koch brothers and Fox News viewers.”
He said if the employer mandate hadn’t been delayed, Republicans would instead be upset with the administration was moving ahead too quickly.
The requirement that companies offer their workers insurance or pay a penalty was a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act. But in its final regulations, Treasury delayed the mandate for companies with between 50 and 99 employees, after business groups pressured the administration for more time to comply with the law.