LAS VEGAS – James Klein has a theory on what might really happen with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act individual mandate.
Klein, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Benefits Council, doesn’t believe it will be repealed, as the GOP would like, and he doesn’t even believe it will be delayed, not while a Democrat holds the White House.
Speaking Monday at the Health and Benefits Leadership Conference and Expo, Klein said President Obama and his team will wait until the enrollment period closes at month’s end and then make a political judgment.
Klein’s prediction is that the administration will impose the penalties called for under the law against individuals who fail to sign up for coverage but will do so with a “light” touch.
No penalties will be imposed on those who made a “reasonable good faith” effort to enroll, he said, and penalties will only be levied against those who exhibited a “willful disregard” for the law.
There are plenty of signs that Klein’s prediction could be spot on.
In December, the administration said people whose existing health plans had been canceled wouldn’t have to comply with the mandate. Earlier this month, the government said that exemption will be extended through 2016. What’s more, anybody who believes they’ve had a “hardship in obtaining insurance” can apply for an exemption.
The individual mandate is one of the more controversial provisions of the law. Obama himself didn’t support it until after he was elected president. But health insurers have said that to remain financially viable while offering coverage to everyone, the government must require all Americans to obtain coverage.
Klein’s comments came in a presentation that he made on the legislative outlook for various benefits-related bills amid a riven Congress.
The November mid-terms are likely to be very good for the Republicans, he said.
In part, that’s because traditionally, the party that doesn’t occupy the White House does well in mid-term elections and that’s especially true in a president’s second term.
Also, any damage to the GOP that arose from the government shutdown last year already are forgotten, he said, and because of the agreements hammered out at that time, there’s no need for the GOP to strike a debt-ceiling deal any time soon.
Klein did include a caveat in his prediction, noting that eight months is an “eternity” in politics.
The GOP, of course, has shown little desire to improve PPACA. But Democrats also have little desire to make any changes to the PPACA, because their efforts would highlight flaws in the law and they could lose control of the process.
That’s why Klein said the public should expect more executive actions from Obama of the sort that have delayed the employer mandate, among many others.
On the other hand, Democrats and Republicans could well put aside their differences to pass legislation that redefines the full-time employee rule in the health care reform law.
Doing so would change that definition from someone who works 30 hours a week to 40 hours a week.
Concerns shared by the GOP and Democrats are that employers will make 30 hours a week the new standard and depress workers’ earnings. There also are concerns that the current rule incentivizes employees to work fewer hours and qualify for a government subsidy.