Business groups are pressing Congress to repeal ObamaCare's employer mandate to offer health insurance to their workers, but getting Republicans to act on the issue will likely be an uphill battle.
After repealing the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) individual mandate in December, business groups are demanding Congress also take action on the employer mandate — which requires most employers to offer insurance to their workers or face fines — arguing that having one without the other is inequitable.
“The whole legal basis for the employer mandate in the ACA was to support the individual mandate, and with the repeal of the individual mandate, there’s no legal or logical basis for the employer mandate,” said James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, which lobbies for large companies like Apple and Bank of America.
“It’s inequitable to leave it all on the shoulders of the employers… In the absence of an individual mandate, you certainly don’t need the employer mandate.”
Business groups aiming to repeal the rule face the challenge, however, of setting a fire under Republicans' feet during an election year, when health care is an especially thorny issue.
Repealing the individual mandate through tax reform at the end of last year was seen as a small way to achieve victory on a health care matter after several failed attempts to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
But repealing the employer mandate was not part of that discussion. It also wasn’t attached to recent government funding, even though a delay of another unpopular ObamaCare component — a “Cadillac” tax on high-cost employer-sponsored insurance plans — was.
Now, Reps. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesSunday shows preview: Pelosi announces date for infrastructure vote; administration defends immigration policies LIVE COVERAGE: Ways and Means begins Day 2 on .5T package Biden faces unfinished mission of evacuating Americans MORE (R-Calif.) and Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyHouse Ethics panel reviewing Rep. Malinowski's stock trades Lobbying world Lobbying world MORE (R-Pa.) are pushing to have a suspension of the mandate included in an upcoming long-term spending deal March 22.
Their bill would cancel any penalties incurred 2015 through 2018.
“We are strongly pushing for the employer mandate suspension to be part of the omnibus,” said Kelly’s spokesman Thomas Qualtere.
“Small businesses everywhere are counting on it, since the mandate will cause real harm to their employees. We know that its inclusion is a definite possibility and have high hopes it will happen.”
The IRS began sending notices in November to businesses that failed to comply with the requirement in 2015, with some facing penalties that are millions of dollars.
The fines apply to firms with at least 50 employers that don’t offer affordable health insurance.
Some lobbyists hope this will spur Congress to quickly take action on the mandate, but say they're not holding their breath.
“Part of the lobbying challenge is the employer mandate has been particularly partisan and fraught with partisan baggage,” said Neil Tratwein, a lobbyist with the National Retail Federation.
“The penalty letters may provide us the hook to broader the bipartisan appeal of this issue. But it’s a tough one to get up through the House and particularly through the Senate. Of all the radioactive ACA issues, this one is up there with the biggest ones.”
Unlike the individual mandate, which was widely viewed as the most unpopular part of ObamaCare, the employer mandate is popular in the United States.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about half of Americans get coverage through an employer. And a January 2017 poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that 61 percent of Americans oppose repealing the employer mandate.
On top of the mandate's support, Republicans are still reeling from multiple failures to repeal President Obama's signature law. It remains unclear whether a divided Republican conference would take up ObamaCare again, especially with a slim majority in the Senate.
But support for a repeal of the mandate appears to be growing in the House, where Republicans have a large majority.
“We want to make sure our businesses aren't caught up in some sort of fines or punitive measures for the past three years,” Brady said.
“I think the goal would be to delay or repeal it in total, but retroactive as well.”
“I think certainly if you mentioned it to Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 Hoyer: Democrats 'committed' to Oct. 31 timeline for Biden's agenda MORE, he’d become apocalyptic, if you mentioned health care to him again” said Rep. Phil RoeDavid (Phil) Phillip RoeHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Illinois Republican elected to serve as next ranking member of House Veterans' Affairs Committee Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Doctors Caucus, who said he would support a repeal of the mandate.
“I really wish I knew. I don’t know. I think they’ll try to avoid it if they can.”