- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

President Obama’s top health official on Wednesday told Congress flatly that the administration will stick to the March 31 deadline requiring Americans to have health insurance, rejecting House GOP protests that the White House is giving breaks to special interests, but not to average voters.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also wouldn’t set a target for how many people need to enroll in the Obamacare exchanges by the end-of-the-month deadline in order for the economics of the Affordable Care Act to work out.

“Success looks like millions of people with affordable health coverage, which we will have by the end of March,” she told the House Ways and Means Committee.

With less than three weeks to go before the deadline, the administration needs millions of Americans to sign up to meet an early target of 7 million enrollees. As of March 1, only 4.2 million had signed up — and just a quarter of those were the young adults the administration needs to sign up to help cover the costs of older, less-healthy Americans.

GOP members said that even many of the 4.2 million who have enrolled for plans aren’t actually covered because they never paid their premiums.

Republicans said President Obama is trying to have it both ways in enforcing some of the law, while delaying other parts — all of them through executive changes that never got the approval of Congress.

SEE ALSO: Critics not amused at Obama’s whimsical attempts to pitch health care

“Has there been any legislation sent from the administration up to Congress in regards to those fixes?” said Rep. Tom Reed, New York Republican.

“I have not sent legislation to Congress. No, sir,” Mrs. Sebelius replied.

“Yeah, because the answer is zero,” Mr. Reed said. “I knew the answer to that question.”

Republicans said it seemed the White House itself did not put much stock in the mandate, because the Obama administration recently let people with bare-bones plans keep them through 2016 and put few proof requirements on it. Some Republicans have said the individual mandate has become largely toothless as a result.

“It just seems to me that only the people who might be subject to this individual tax are those who were never insured,” as opposed to those who had coverage and lost it last year, Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican, said. “Do you think that this is fair?”

Mrs. Sebelius said the rule-making was consistent with hardship exemptions that were built in for people who cannot afford coverage.

“It starts with the notion that if you can’t afford coverage, you are not obligated … to buy coverage,” she said. “That has always been a framework.”

Republicans argue that Mr. Obama was unfair in delaying the business mandate requiring large firms provide their employees with health coverage, while refusing to delay the individual mandate that applies to average Americans.

People who fail to acquire insurance by the end of this month are exposed to a penalty when they file their taxes next spring. The penalty for lacking insurance in 2014 is the greater of $95 or 1 percent of income above the filing threshold, and the IRS would siphon it off from any tax refund the filer expected to receive.

On Tuesday, the House passed a measure that would let Americans certify a religious objection to holding health insurance, freeing them from the individual mandate’s penalty, even though similar measures have been rebuffed by the Democrat-led Senate and the White House.

Later this week, House Republicans plan to attach an individual-mandate delay to a bill that would repeal an unpopular Medicare formula that Congress bypasses each year through the “doc fix” patch to keep reimbursement rates steady.

Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, cited unbalanced delays, lagging enrollment and reports of rising premiums as reasons Congress should not have to pony up more funding for Mr. Obama’s law in the coming year.

“The law is not working as it was promised,” he said. “And yet, the president’s budget doubles down on this law, requesting another $1.8 billion for its implementation.”

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