Congressional Republicans and business groups on Tuesday demanded information about who made the decision to delay the healthcare law’s employer mandate.
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett announced early this month that businesses would have an additional year to comply with the mandate, which requires organizations with more than 50 full-time workers to either provide insurance to workers or pay a penalty.
Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and other Republicans questioned on Tuesday whether the decision was constitutional, since the law contained statutory deadlines to implement new regulations, and called upon the administration to explain the decision and say who made it.
The employer mandate provision was a major source of criticism from the conservative
lawmakers and the private sector during formal debate over the
Affordable Care Act. Republicans say the only way to fix the law is to scrap it entirely.
“The delay provides workplaces a temporary reprieve from an onerous mandate," said Roe, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions. “However, it does not alter the fact the law is fatally flawed.”
Roe said the decision would only delay inevitable job losses, as employers are saddled with new costs and incentives to stop hiring and limit the hours of their workers.
Earlier this month, Roe and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), chairman of the House subcommittee on Workforce Protections, invited the Obama administration’s regulatory chief to explain the mandate decision.
But Howard Shelanski, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), declined, saying the delay was a policy decision outside the purview of his office's regulatory activities.
Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, said on July 17 that she was not consulted on the decision, noted Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a nonprofit health and tax policy group.
On the very next day, Mark Iwry, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for retirement and health policy, was unable to say when the decision to delay the mandate was made, or whether it ultimately came down from Treasury or the White House, according to Turner.
“Certainly a decision with such significant implications should have been reviewed by those in the administration with responsibility for implementing the law to determine its legality, its implications on other provisions of the law and its implications fro businesses and their employees,” she said.
Turner, testifying at a joint hearing before the two subcommittees, said companies and their workers were “more confused than ever,” following the decision.
Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) scoffed at the notion that the decision was unconstitutional, saying presidents from both parties had taken similar actions in the past. He chided Republicans for continuing to debate the law more than three years after President Obama signed it.
“Give me a break,” Courtney said, noting that the law remains intact despite more than three-dozen GOP attempts to repeal it in part or whole. “We can do this until the cows come home.”
Courtney said he backed the employer mandate decision, which came under fierce pressure from businesses that wanted clarification of IRS reporting requirements.
“They made what I think was a commonsense decision,” Courtney said.
The administration is expected to issue additional guidance to employers later this summer.