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Obama admin delays major requirement of health law

By From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON -- In a major concession to business groups, the Obama administration Tuesday unexpectedly announced a one-year delay, until 2015, in a central requirement of the new health care law that medium and large companies provide coverage for their workers or face fines.

The move sacrificed timely implementation of President Barack Obama's signature legislation but may help the administration politically by blunting a line of attack Republicans were planning to use in next year's congressional elections. The employer requirements are among the most complex parts of the health care law, which is designed to expand coverage for uninsured Americans.

"We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively," Treasury Assistant Secretary Mark Mazur said in a blog post. "We have listened to your feedback and we are taking action."

Business groups were jubilant.

"A pleasant surprise," said Randy Johnson, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There was no inkling in advance of the administration's action, he said.

Under the law, companies with 50 or more workers must provide affordable coverage to their full-time employees or risk a series of escalating tax penalties if just one worker ends up getting government-subsidized insurance.

Originally, that requirement was supposed to take effect next Jan. 1. Business groups complained since the law passed that the provision was too complicated. For instance, the law created a new definition of full-time workers, those putting in 30 hours or more per week. But such complaints until now seemed to be going unheeded.

The delay does not affect the law's requirement that individuals carry health insurance starting next year or face fines. That so-called individual mandate was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled last year that requirement was constitutional because the penalty would be collected by the Internal Revenue Service and amounted to a tax.

Tuesday's action is sure to anger liberals and labor groups, but it could provide cover for Democratic candidates in next year's congressional elections.

The move undercuts Republican efforts to make the overhaul and the costs associated with new requirements a major issue in congressional races. Democrats are defending 21 Senate seats to the Republicans' 14, and the GOP had already started to excoriate Senate Democrats who had voted for the health law in 2009.

Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett cast the decision as part of an effort to simplify data reporting requirements.

She said since enforcing the coverage mandate is dependent on businesses reporting about their workers' access to insurance, the administration decided to postpone the reporting requirement, and with it, the mandate to provide coverage.

"We have and will continue to make changes as needed," Jarrett wrote in a White House blog post. "In our ongoing discussions with businesses we have heard that you need the time to get this right. We are listening."

Republicans called it a validation of their belief that the law is unworkable and should be repealed.

"Obamacare costs too much and it isn't working the way the administration promised," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "The White House seems to slowly be admitting what Americans already know ... that Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced with common-sense reforms that actually lower costs for Americans."

In West Virginia, Steve Roberts, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce president, called the delay a "bombshell." He questioned what it meant for the legislation in general.

"It calls into question whether the people who initiated and passed this legislation had any clue about what they were doing," he said late Tuesday.

Roberts, who heard the news from a Daily Mail reporter who called seeking comment, said more time would certainly help businesses in the state. He said he hears frequently from concerned business owners who have questions about the law's requirements.

Typically, he said business owners want to know what type of coverage they will have to provide, when they have to provide it, to whom they must provide it and where are they supposed to receive it. Apart from who is eligible for coverage, Roberts said there have been few answers from the federal government.

He was skeptical of reports that the health care exchanges created by the legislation wouldn't be affected.

"I'm not suggesting it was delayed out of mercy, it was delayed out of necessity," Roberts said.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was also quick to point to the delay as evidence of problems with the entire legislation.

The Republican who won office in 2012 is an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act. He voiced more of those concerns Tuesday evening on Twitter.

"Employer mandate one section of a flawed law with a negative impact on (West Virginia)," Morrisey tweeted. "This is the first of more 'shoes to drop' before enrollment begins."

Morrisey also tweeted that Tuesday's decision could show Obama's administration "is understanding just how flawed and delayed its implementation rollout has been."

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., was the only member of the state's delegation to voice his opinion on Twitter Tuesday evening. He said the delay was more evidence of the "Obamacare train wreck."

Charleston car dealer Joe Holland recently filed a lawsuit over the legislation. He wants a judge to block a mandate that he provide insurance to his employees that covers abortion and contraceptives. 

Holland, who describes himself as a born-again Christian, claims that mandate violates his religious beliefs. He says he provides health insurance to about 150 employees already, but that abortion and contraceptives aren't covered by the plans he offers.

Obama's administration pushed for the rule as a way to expand coverage and ease the costs of birth control, which can average about $600 a year.

Jeremiah Dys is an attorney and head of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a conservative Christian advocacy organization. He is also part of the legal team representing Holland.

Reached late Tuesday, Dys said he wanted to learn more about the delay before commenting on how it might affect Holland's lawsuit.


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