Turmoil toughens IRS job on healthcare

The targeting of conservative groups by federal tax officials is raising tough questions for the Internal Revenue Service as it prepares to carry out major parts of ObamaCare.

The nonpartisan IRS is charged with some of the law’s most important functions, such as distributing tax credits and enforcing the individual mandate to buy health insurance.

ADVERTISEMENT
IRS duties on healthcare were bound to be politically charged given the controversy surrounding the law,  which remains divisive with the public.

Now the IRS’s job has become even more difficult given the certainty of an investigation into the agency’s scrutiny of conservative groups.

“This casts a shadow over everything the IRS does going forward,” GOP strategist  Matt Mackowiak said of the current scandal. “We don’t know that they will fairly enforce the law in the future if they haven’t in the past.” Mackowiak contributes to The Hill’s Pundits Blog.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on Monday asked why federal bureaucrats should be entrusted with healthcare policy “if you can’t trust the bureaucracy with your politics.”

Health policy experts say the IRS’s enforcement duties under ObamaCare are guided by congressionally mandated formulas that do not allow for discrimination.

“It’s always possible to improperly administer a law, but the law is written to give the IRS service functions, not policy functions,” said Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“There are formulas built into the law regarding payments. The IRS will act as a service organization, following those formulas.”

Others characterized the IRS as a neutral clearinghouse charged with black-and-white decisions under healthcare reform.

Judith Feder, a public policy professor at Georgetown University who served in the Clinton administration, called Gingrich’s claim “outrageous.”

The administration is already facing criticism from both sides of the aisle about its implementation of the healthcare law.

Federal health officials are staring down Jan. 1, 2014 — the law’s most important deadline — when the new health insurance exchanges, the Medicaid expansion and the bulk of new insurance regulations are set to take effect.

The IRS is responsible for the individual mandate and, in some cases, will be permitted to withhold the tax refunds of business and individuals who do not comply.

The agency also will collect the law’s wide range of taxes and distribute subsidies to millions of people to help them buy insurance.

According to some estimates, including one by Republican committee staff, the IRS will hire between about 6,000 and 16,500 new employees because of healthcare reform.

GOP strategists said the agency presents fertile ground for attacks on ObamaCare, particularly ahead of 2014, when conservatives hope to use the law’s unpopularity to claim the Senate.