Unhealthy debate

The core of the Affordable Care Act remains intact, despite the delay in carrying out one of its key mandates


The White House this week delayed for a year a mandate of the Affordable Care Act that larger businesses — those with 50 or more full-time workers — provide health insurance to employees.

Politics — in this case, midterm elections next year — almost certainly drove part of the Obama Administration’s decision to postpone, until Jan. 1, 2015, the employer mandate, which calls for fines for noncomplying employers of $2,000 to $3,000 per employee.

But it’s also plausible that President Obama listened to business interests, especially retail and food-service industries, which have voiced concerns about adjusting their health-care plans to the new law and handling its reporting and record-keeping requirements.

Responding to the needs of business people is something Republicans should favor. Instead of applauding the President, however, GOP leaders almost gleefully — and prematurely — predicted the end of Obamacare.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said the President’s announcement was a “clear acknowledgment that the law is unworkable.” That’s nonsense. And it’s especially odious coming from leaders who have done everything they could to ensure the program won’t work.

The real scandal here is not that the President listened to business people and delayed one of the mandates. It’s that nearly two in three uninsured poor people who would qualify for subsidized coverage might not get it next year because state lawmakers have refused — unconscionably — to sign on to the program’s Medicaid expansion, even though the federal government is paying for it.

These states include Ohio and Michigan, despite the sensible and pragmatic efforts of Republican governors John Kasich and Rick Snyder to participate (see the next editorial).

In any case, the administration’s delay won’t affect more than 90 percent of employees of larger companies, because most such firms already provide affordable coverage. Moreover, the few workers at those companies who aren’t covered should be able to obtain insurance — and probably superior coverage — on government-regulated health-care exchanges that are scheduled to open Oct. 1. Federal subsidies will help pay to cover families with modest incomes.

The core of the new health-care law remains intact: A requirement, starting next year, that all Americans get insurance — either through employers, an expanded Medicaid program, or federal- and state-backed marketplaces that are designed to insure people who can’t get good coverage elsewhere, including people with pre-existing conditions.

A historic, complex effort to insure all Americans has begun, and hiccups appear inevitable. No one knows fully how Obamacare, especially the regulated insurance marketplaces, will work. Other delays could occur that could tax the nation’s patience and undermine its will.

But ensuring that all Americans have access to health care is a mission worth fighting and — if necessary to get it right — waiting for. America’s leaders should remember that and act like adults.

Republicans and other critics might have legitimate reasons to carp as the program enfolds. Given what’s at stake, however, a delay in rolling out one of the mandates to alleviate problems for business is not one of them.