Vote to delay penalties was not a “vote against Obamacare.”
By Andy Cohen
Congressman Scott Peters appears to have a lot of problems, even before he finishes the first year of his first term. It seems that no matter what he does, he just can’t seem to make anyone happy these days. He’s not conservative enough; he’s not liberal enough; he’s a “corporate shill”; he’s a job-killin’-regulation-lovin’ commie pinko who loves govmint too much…..or something.
It’s no secret that Peters, the representative for the 52nd Congressional District in San Diego, is no far left progressive. He ran as a center left Democrat in a district that oh-so-slightly leans conservative and beat the incumbent Republican. Any truly honest analysis will conclude that he was the right type of candidate for that particular district at that time.
It’s a district with a slight registration advantage for Republicans over Democrats, with a nearly equal proportion of “Decline to State” voters (California speak for Independent), leaving the district roughly divided into thirds. Republicans, not surprisingly are not at all happy about the loss in what was not a good electoral year for them, particularly here in San Diego.
You’d think that the Democrats would be happy with the win and be busily gearing up to defend the seat in 2014 against a known opponent–Carl Demaio– who is sure to be exceptionally well funded. After all, it is pretty much a blessing to know the opposition this far out, particularly one with so many scabs to pick at.
It would be completely expected for bombs to be lobbed in from the right, but attacks are now coming from the left as well. A recent missive from MoveOn.org demanded that Peters explain “why (he) voted against Obamacare,” as if he suddenly joined with the House Congressional Republicans in voting (for a 37th time) to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka: Obamacare).
The vote in question took place on July 17 on H.R. 2668, a House bill to “delay the application of the individual health insurance mandate, to delay the application of the employer health insurance mandate, and for other purposes.”
The bill itself is short, and the text is pretty simple and straightforward: It delays the enforcement date of the employer mandate by one year to January 1, 2015 (which the Obama Administration has already done on its own); delays the enforcement of the individual health insurance mandate by the same time frame; and changes the reporting deadlines for employers and insurance providers by a year.
On the surface this could look a bit dubious, but it’s far less sinister than the MoveOn email implies. The short explanation, according to a Peters spokesman, is that the bill does not delay the law itself, but it does delay when the IRS can start issuing fines for businesses and individuals who choose to ignore the law and not purchase health insurance.
According to spokesman Michael Campbell, the Obamacare exchanges will open as scheduled on January 1, 2014. Individuals without health insurance will be able to purchase their policies from a state run health insurance exchange in states that have chosen to fully participate. California and New York, for example, have already published rates for individuals at significantly lower costs than are currently available; up to 29% lower for individuals age 40 and under in California (although a small handful might see their premiums go up by 2%–Kaiser Permanente was the big disappointment there), with New Yorkers seeing a 50% plunge in their health insurance rates.
H.R. 2668 passed the House with 22 Democrats—including Scott Peters—siding with 229 House Republicans who voted in favor. Only one Republican voted against.
To be clear, a vote in favor of 2668 was not a vote against Obamacare—unless you’re a Republican, in which case it probably was. In effect, though, that’s not the case.
“Scott did vote for 2668, which delays the penalty for not signing up for health insurance until January 2015 from January 2014. However, the vote did not repeal the ACA as some people are falsely claiming,” wrote Campbell in an email exchange yesterday.
Enrollment, he said, will still begin on October 1, 2013, with the exchanges set to officially go live on January 1. Covered California, the name of the California health insurance exchange, should be up and running by then. Federal subsidies for individuals in the exchanges will be available as scheduled, depending on the consumer’s ability to pay.
Peters still fully supports Obamacare, Campbell said, while supporting efforts to improve the law, such as repealing the medical device tax (also supported by Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar).
“This theoretically gives individuals more time to understand their options and decide what plans work for them, and gives HHS more time to set up exchanges in the states that are not creating their own,” wrote Campbell. Not every state is as enthusiastic about Obamacare as California and New York are. But with the results these two heavily populated states are seeing, the hope is that that attitude will change over time.
From the employer perspective, the delay makes perfect sense and allows employers—particularly small businesses with fewer than 50 employees—some extra time to crunch the numbers and determine whether or not it’s actually cheaper to pay the fine than it would be to offer their employees health care, even with subsidies and tax breaks. (See this KPBS breakdown for an excellent explanation of the decision metrics for businesses.)
By the same token, it makes sense to afford individuals the same breathing room given that not all states are as ahead of the curve and New York and California, with some being outright hostile toward the healthcare reform act. “There is still a lot of ambiguity for individuals, and in many states there has been little to no marketing of the health insurance exchange product,” said Campbell.
“The bill was/is certainly a bit of GOP messaging at its core, but also represents a fair opportunity for individuals and businesses after POTUS delayed the employer mandate a year.”
Chances are iffy at best that H.R. 2668 will even get a vote in the Senate, so really the handwringing over the bill is for naught anyway. But upon further inspection, it would appear that House Republicans might have actually gotten this one right for a change, intentionally or not, and it could make the transition to full implementation smoother and a lot more palatable for everyone. Voting for it was a reasonable thing for Scott Peters to do.