House Republicans questioned the legality of the Obama administration’s decision to delay Obamacare’s employer mandate while blasting the administration’s decision not to grant similar relief to individuals and families at a hearing on Thursday afternoon.
The administration defended its decision to delay the employer mandate, arguing to the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that it was both heeding the request of employers and acting legally.
It shows that you have great sympathy for big business and that you’re trying to cater to big business but not to hard working taxpayers and small business people," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), the vice-chairman of the full committee. She described the law as seeking to "destroy the healthcare marketplace and destroy the doctor-patient relationship."
The Republicans repeatedly sought information and documents from the representative from the Treasury Mark Iwry on who decided to delay the employer mandate and when the decision was made.
Iwry said that the administration had to delay the mandate that employers with over 50 full-time employees provide health insurance for two reasons: It allowed the administration to simplify the businesses’ reporting requirements and gave businesses the time to adapt to the new requirements.
Iwry also said that the individual mandate was necessary for the state-based health insurance exchanges—the heart of the law—to function properly. The administration would consider other delays as they were requested, he said.
Democrats on the committee praised the impact of the law thus far and argued that Congress should be seeking to improve the law, not hurt it.
"I wish that we were pursuing this oversight in a less hyperbolic fashion," said subcommittee ranking member Diana DeGette (D., Colo.), after chairman Tim Murphy (R., Penn.) denounced the law’s implementation as a "massive failure."
"These are very important consumer protections that the ACA has provided," said Rep. Kathy Castor (D., Fla.).
President Barack Obama’s remarks Thursday morning on the healthcare overhaul’s implementation animated the hearing. Obama argued that the nation is already seeing the benefits of the law, pointing to the declining premium rates in several states as evidence.
He specifically pointed to the announcement on Wednesday by New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo that premiums in his state would drop by 50 percent.
Murphy noted that New York already has extremely high insurance prices, and that the drop there did not offer his constituents hope for a similar decline in Pennsylvania.
"I certainly am not going to be going home to my district and saying, congratulations, you now get to pay Manhattan prices in Pennsylvania," Murphy quipped.