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The Mandate That Matters: Individual, Not Employer

Ilana Novick

Thirty seven. That's how many attempts House Republicans have made to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Most of the attempts gave been focused on dismantling the law as a whole, and while the current version is not as robust as Obama's original proposals, the law has survived extensive attacks. 

Now, the same group of lawmakers is trying a new tactic, one that the California Health Line calls "more surgical"; chipping away at different pieces of the ACA. Unfortunately, this piecemeal approach is slightly more successful, as the Obama Administration decided on Wednesday to allow a  one year delay in the implementation of penalties for large employers (50 or more workers) who do not offer affordable coverage to their full-time workers (30 or more hours per week). Some viewed the employer responsibility requirement as a key part of the ACA and the penalties as being an important tool for securing employer based insurance coverage once other reforms take effect. 

While the news of the delay is an unfortunate sign that the aforementioned 37 attempts to shut down the law may finally be catching on, according to the Urban Institute, it's actually a potential delay in the individual mandate that we should be worried about, that would  "undermine a critical component of the coverage expansion in the ACA."

The analysis, which used a microsimulation model to determine the different effects of different costs and forms of coverage, revealed that eliminating the individual mandate would significantly increase the number of uninsured compared to full implementation of the ACA, decreasing employer coverage as well. The study noted: "these findings are consistent with the evidence in Massachusetts, where coverage reforms were implemented beginning in 2006."

Delaying the employer mandate is not the end of the world. Plenty of employers are scrambling to catch up with the requirements of the employer mandate. Businesses continue to argue over the definition of a full-time equivalent and whether employees who work 30 hours a week should be covered, or if the minimum should be 40. And there is still a lot of work to do to create cheaper and less expansive coverage options that employers can turn to.

This delay not worth losing sleep over. Better to work on preserving the current implementation of the individual mandate and preventing the inevitable 38th attack on the ACA.