March 12, 2014

Doc Fixing the Individual Mandate

Protecting religious liberty, while also looking at delaying the individual mandate.

The House is working on health care reform bills to fix a few of ObamaCare’s massive problems. One is the Equitable Access to Care and Health Act, which passed Tuesday on a voice vote under a suspension of the rules, meaning at least 50 Democrats had to join Republicans. The EACH Act addresses religious liberty – a hot topic of late – by expanding the religious exemption from ObamaCare’s individual mandate. Only the Amish and the Old Order of Mennonites currently receive such an exemption, but under the new bill anyone can include a sworn statement citing religious objections to medical care with their tax return. The bill does not repeal the ObamaCare mandate that employers provide health insurance that may violate their religious beliefs.

Another bill is the annual ritual of the “doc fix,” in which Congress once again overrides scheduled cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates. The Sustainable Growth Rate formula always needing the override would reduce rates by up to 30%, and when many physicians are already turning away patients with Medicare or Medicaid, such a “fix” is almost politically guaranteed. The current one expires March 31.

But this time there’s a wrinkle. Both chambers are looking to replace the old formula and make the fix permanent, and the House seeks to do so while paying for the 10-year, $138 billion tab by delaying ObamaCare’s individual mandate, though the timeframe has not yet been released. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that delaying the mandate by one year would save $9 billion, while repealing it altogether would save $282 billion over 10 years.

Obviously, delaying or repealing the individual mandate stands no chance in the Senate, much less of getting Barack Obama’s signature. The president argues that the mandate is essential to the law’s success. But tying the doc fix to mandate repeal puts House Democrats in a very uncomfortable spot in this election year. The vote is schedule for Friday.

We should clarify one thing: A legislative delay of the individual mandate stands no chance of getting Obama’s signature, but he’ll happily – if quietly – delay it himself. Buried in a recent HHS technical bulletin is another wave of Obama’s magic wand, delaying until 2016 the mandate for Americans whose insurance was cancelled. It falls under the “hardship” exemptions, and all that’s necessary is filling out a form attesting that you “believe that the plan options available in the [ObamaCare] Marketplace in your area are more expensive than your cancelled health insurance policy” or “you consider other available policies unaffordable.” Maybe Nancy Pelosi was right; they did have to pass it to find out what’s in it.

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