President Barack Obama used the January 22 State of the Union address to tout the 7.1 million people who have signed up for 2015 health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Furthermore, the Obama Administration expects enrollments in Obamacare to reach 9.1 million by the end of 2015. While President Obama has publically stated over and over again that he will veto any legislation that imposes restrictions on Obamacare, the Republican controlled congress is not backing down on their efforts to reign in the program, passing four bills in less than three weeks.
The House introduced three bills which specifically imposed constraints on the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate which requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide health care insurance to their full time employees. Right out of the gate, the House introduced two bills which received bipartisan support. The first bill of the year, a measure which exempts veterans who already have health care from the Defense or Veterans Affairs Departments from the employer mandate, was passed 412-0 on January 6. Lawmakers advocated for the bill by emphasizing that companies would have more incentive to hire veterans if they already had health insurance. The same bill passed the House last year 406-1, but died in the Senate. Additionally, the House passed 401-0 legislation which would exempt fire fighters from the employer mandate. Lawmakers argued that fire fighters should be exempt from the employer mandate because they often have work hours which exceed 30 hours a week. According to Representative Lou Barletta (Republican- Pennsylvania), the bill’s sponsor “Some fire companies would be forced to pay for the volunteers’ health insurance or pay a fine, driving many fire departments out of business.”
On the other hand, the House incited controversy with a “40 hour full time work week” bill which effectively “voted down Obama’s 30 hour full time work week” by waiving fees on businesses which do not provide health insurance to employees working less than 40 hours a week. The bill, which has been identified as a top priority by new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican- Kentucky), passed the House 252-172 with only 12 Democrats supporting it. The bill which currently has only two Democratic sponsors within the Senate, Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is going to face an uphill battle in the Senate. And the White House has also threatened to veto it. Democrats are against the 40 hour work week because they perceive it as a way for the government to restrict employee access to health care. Proponents argue that keeping the work week at 30 hours a week gives employers an incentive to limit workers hours to below 30 hours which effectively limits wages. The House also passed additional controversial legislation with the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”. The bill which passed 242-179, blocks abortions from being covered by insurance plans offered by the federal government’s healthcare.gov.
The GOP is promising more legislation. Senator Orin Hatch (Republican-Utah) along with Senator Lamar Alexander (Republican-Texas) are actively lobbying support for a bill which will undue the individual mandate to carry health insurance. Twelve additional senators have joined their effort. Repealing the individual mandate would turn Obamacare on its knees. In 2014, the penalty for not having health care was $95 per adult ($47.50 per child under 18) or 1% of your income whichever was higher. In 2015, the penalty will skyrocket to $325 per person per year ($162.50 per child under 18) or 2% of your income, whichever is higher. Repealing the individual mandate is the hit to the jugular on Obamacare. For this action would call out Obamacare for what it is, a “nanny state” directive which requires people to purchase something which they do not want and then penalizes them for not purchasing it.
Senator Hatch and other Republicans are also pushing for a repeal of the 2.3% tax on medical device manufacturers, a measure which has garnered support among both Republicans and Democrats. The tax which is anticipated to generate $28 billion in revenue over ten years was initially included in the Affordable Care Act as a way to fund the law’s requirements. Opponents of the tax perceive it as harmful to business in that its’ cost requirements result in the elimination of jobs and organizations moving outside of the US to avoid the tax.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has conveyed repeatedly that he is committing to “revisiting Obamacare” which he has described as “a gigantic, unworkable law that hurts hardworking Americans”. More bills are coming. Stay tuned!
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