Obama defends delays as easing Obamacare’s burden

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President Obama brushed off criticism Tuesday of his decision to delay an Obamacare rule that requires larger employers to provide health insurance, saying recent edits to his signature health care law are designed to ease the pain for employer and individuals alike.

“Our goal here is not to punish folks,” he said during a press conference with French President Francois Hollande. “Our goal is to make sure that we’ve got people who can count on the financial security that health insurance provides. And where we’ve got companies that want to do the right thing and are trying to work with us, we want to make sure that we’re working with them as well.”

The employer mandate requires companies who employ the equivalent of 50 or more full-time workers to provide health coverage of pay fines. It was supposed to take effect in January, much like other major Obamacare provisions.

But the Obama administration delayed it for one year, to 2015, and on Monday delayed it until 2016 for firms of 50 to 99 employees. It also phased in its enforcement for companies with more than 100 workers.

Republican critics seized on the move, saying month-by-month changes to the law’s rollout prove the reforms were always operating on shaky ground. They said everyday folks deserve a similar reprieve from the law’s “individual mandate,” which requires almost all Americans to hold health insurance.

Mr. Obama said the Treasury’s new employer rule is consistent with how the White House has manipulated the individual mandate in recent weeks, extending deadlines and offering new exemptions to people who had a hard time using HealthCare.gov, the main Obamacare website.

“The vast majority of Americans want health insurance. Many of them couldn’t afford it. We provide them tax credits,” he said. “But even with the tax credits, in some cases, they still can’t afford it, and we have hardship exemptions phase-ins to make sure that nobody is unnecessarily burdened.”

With Mr. Hollande by his side, Mr. Obama said the United States has a “unique system compared to many parts of the world,” in that health care is frequently tied to employment.

“That’s not the case in most other developed countries,” he said. In France, the health insurance system is essentially run by the government.

Looking to long-term trends, he defended his law despite a Congressional Budget Office report that said more than 2 million Americans will be less inclined to work because they can qualify for government-subsidized insurance under Obamacare.

Democrats say that’s not bad news, arguing it frees people up from “job lock,” in which they stay in jobs for too long simply to keep their health insurance.

“So it’s giving people more flexibility and more opportunity to do what makes sense for them,” Mr. Obama said. “Ultimately I think that’s going to be good for our economy.”

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