Varied reactions to delayed health care mandate: relief, reserve, rejoicing
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Published: 08-Jul-2013

The state official in charge of administering Oklahoma’s government health care funds said he is relieved to get another year for full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A leading supporter of the Obama Administration’s most celebrated, and denounced, legislative achievement says the delay in the employer health insurance mandate bore no negative implications for the measure’s long-term prospects.

However, diverse conservative critics of the law, widely known as “ObamaCare,” rejoiced, saying delay means the legislation is bound for the dustbin of history.

Nico Gomez, CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, lead agency for Medicaid administration, told CapitolBeatOK, “The Leavitt Partners report (submitted in late June as a template for the next stage of Medicaid policy development in the Sooner State) suggested a waiver application that would require a statutory change to be considered by the Governor and Legislature.

“The report mentions 2015 as the earliest possible date for a new program assuming state and federal approval. So the decision by the Obama administration to delay the employer mandate by one year doesn’t have any immediate effect. … The long-term discussion still needs to take place.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, still pressing an aggressive legal challenge to certain technical aspects of the ACA, said in a statement to CapitolBeatOK his “position has been clear from the beginning -- that the ‘large-employer mandate’ not only violates the law when implemented in states without a state health care exchange, but cripples businesses with burdensome and onerous requirements and penalties. 

“Until now, the Obama Administration has argued in court that the mandate is uncomplicated and easy, but its sudden reversal and delay … clearly demonstrates acknowledgement that the 'large-employer mandate' is in fact a complex, job killing and harmful mandate.” 

State Commissioner of Insurance John Doak, commented, "Even the White House knows that ObamaCare is a disaster. It makes quality, affordable health care unreachable for many. … We need common sense reforms and health care coverage that families can actually afford."

Doak said, in comments to CapitolBeatOK, that business owners “are extremely frustrated by the complicated requirements, paperwork and mandates. … This over-reaching law could cripple small businesses in our state. I pray that this is the beginning of the end of the ObamaCare train wreck.”

A vigorous counter to the law’s critics came from a well-known state physician.

“I don’t think it means a thing in the long run,” said Dr. Katherine Scheirman, an Oklahoma City doctor and passionate supporter of the ACA. “The outcry from the business community that this would cause them problems led to changes in the original legislation. The employer mandate drew some additional support to the bill late in the process when it passed. 

“This just demonstrates that the Obama Administration remains flexible about details of implementation -- and flexible when it comes to the demonstration projects, such as in Arkansas. The actual cost of the employer mandate is relatively minor, as the vast majority of large employers already provide health care.”

Concerning broader implications, Dr. Scheirman asserts, “I believe the law will stay on track for the long-term.” 

A leading private sector critic of the ACA -- Jonathan Small of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs -- commented, “No employer in Oklahoma is going to face a penalty next year for not having the required coverage under ObamaCare. Oklahoma leaders were right not to expand Medicaid or enter agreement or some sort of federal enhancement to the existing program. We have to stay the course.”

Small believes the delay is “obviously a political decision to delay implementation until after the 2014 election. It is also a sign of the significant pressure behind the scenes from other Democrats not to allow this to go into effect in its present form.”

Matt Ball, who runs the Americans for Prosperity affiliate in Oklahoma, said the delay affirms his organization’s sustained criticism of the ACA: “This amounts to an admission that the Obama administration finally understands that imposing this mandate on small business would hurt jobs and slow the economy. I believe the decision to postpone rather than kill the regulation/mandate is a sign of politics rather than an honest effort to help small business. 

“For Oklahoma, this is certainly a victory for small business and the Oklahoma economy. It’s another reason for the state not to rush into anything. There is no need to expand Medicaid in this situation. It would be asking the taxpayers to trust the same federal government that is now realizing its own plans are fundamentally flawed.” 

Ball’s reflections were highlighted in a Watchdog.org round-up of responses from across America

U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, decried the “complex requirements of the President’s signature healthcare law” and its “Compliance paperwork, reporting mandates and coverage minimums.” He said “business owners in my district to halt growth in order to brace for the financial levies to give way. I’m glad the President finally gave in to the reality that this law is too far-reaching for real, law-abiding small business owners to implement.”

Lankford told CapitolBeatOK he is hoping for a permanent delay in “the Un-Affordable Care Act.”

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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