- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Obama administration’s decision to delay the new health care law’s “employer mandate” after business owners complained about its complexity has critics asking why, a few days prior, the White House would green-light a rule it sees as a burden on religious employers who do provide health insurance.

A senior White House adviser and the Treasury Department last week quietly announced the administration would put off, until 2015, a part of the Affordable Care Act that requires businesses with more than 50 workers to offer insurance to all full-time employees, or else pay a fine of $2,000 to $3,000 per worker.

The sudden announcement arrived four days after the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would not significantly alter a rule that requires most employers to insure contraceptives.

“It had absolutely everything to do with the fact 2014 is a big election year,” said Ashley McGuire, senior fellow at the Catholic Association.

Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican, said the White House knew the employer mandate “would hurt them, politically,” as businesses aired their grievances and threatened to move full-time workers to part-time status to stay under the 50-employee threshold that triggers the mandate.

The contraception requirement, he said, “just doesn’t hit critical mass.”

“That’s not going to derail the economy, so they were perfectly willing to move forward on that,” he said Friday.

Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, said the employer mandate delay was “a particularly discriminatory and cynical calculation by this White House.”

Mrs. Black and Mr. Fleming are among the conservative lawmakers who introduced legislation on Capitol Hill that would allow religious objectors to be exempt from the contraception mandate. Dozens of faith-based nonprofits and religiously devout owners of corporations have sued over the mandate, which may be headed for the Supreme Court.

America’s bishops and other religious leaders say HHS’ accommodation for faith-based nonprofits, such as hospitals and universities, does not go far enough in divorcing the institutions from health plans that cover contraception.

Critics of the mandate particularly object to insuring emergency contraceptives taken after sex, arguing drugs like Plan B and Ella may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg and amount to abortion.

They said it is ironic that the White House would burden religious employers that already offer health coverage while delaying the mandate on employers that might be trying to trim their payrolls so they don’t have to provide health benefits.

“That just adds insult to injury,” Ms. McGuire said.

In its announcement, the White House said it was simply responding to numerous business owners’ concerns about the employer mandate.

Democrats and supporters of the law say it is more important to implement the reform correctly than quickly, and accused GOP lawmakers of obfuscating the law’s intent and causing hiccups in implementation.

“This decision [on the employer mandate] reflects the level of misinformation spouted by Republicans and allied groups,” a House Democratic leadership aide said Friday. “Now there will be increased flexibility for the 4 percent of businesses impacted and additional time for education efforts.”

Others said there is no disconnect in how the administration approached the pair of mandates, since each presents a unique challenge.

“‘Red tape’s bureaucratic burden can eventually be overcome, such that a delay on the employer mandate is disappointing but understandable — more time will help,” said Holly Lynch Fernandez, a health law and bioethics specialist at Harvard Law School. “Moral burden, on the other hand, will always exist. Delaying implementation won’t improve anyone’s situation when it comes to the contraceptives coverage mandate.”

It is unclear how congressional Republicans will attempt to use the delay to their political advantage in the short term, but lawmakers seized on the move in a string of public statements over the holiday weekend.

Mr. Fleming said he would not be surprised if the individual mandate was also delayed, as the law’s funding mechanisms and momentum take a hit.

And some groups are just making sure people can sort it all out.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is tracking and litigating cases related to the contraception rule, issued a statement last week to make sure no one conflated the employer mandate with the administration’s decision to green-light the rules on contraceptives.

“This announcement says nothing about the HHS abortion-drug mandate, which has now been finalized and which continues to severely burden the religious liberty of millions of Americans,” general counsel Kyle Duncan said.

The Obama administration also announced Friday that the health care law’s requirements for verification of consumers’ income and health status would be dramatically scaled back until 2015.

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