Republicans have responded to the temporary waivers granted by HHS to states and employers by accusing the agency of cronyism and arguing that the American people also deserve a waiver from the health care law. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) made this argument yesterday on the floor. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) went a step further, introducing legislation that would allow individuals and employers to opt out of their respective coverage requirements:
Mr. Rogers’s bill would allow applications for waivers to the requirement that larger employers offer affordable insurance or pay a penalty, in addition to allowing for waivers to the individual insurance mandate. Each provision takes effect in 2014 under current law.
The legislation by Mr. Rogers, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, so far has one Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma, who is among that chamber’s strongest Democratic opponents of the law.
But current law already provides a sort of waiver for individuals. For instance, Americans who have to spend more than 8 percent of household income on coverage can apply for a hardship waiver, while those with religious objections to purchasing coverage will also be exempt from the requirement. Certain states that apply for an innovation waiver can also do away with the mandate for their residents.
Rogers is undoubtedly asking for far larger exemptions, but such an approach would allow younger and healthier individuals to opt out of purchasing coverage and drive up insurance costs for everyone else. It would, in other words, lead to the kind of death spiral that the individual mandate seeks to prevent.
As for the employer requirement, it’s already fairly porous. Unlike the pay or play employer mandate that was part of earlier drafts of the law, the existing free rider provision doesn’t require small businesses with more than 50 workers to offer coverage. Rather, by 2014, businesses with more than 50 employees that choose not to offer insurance, but have at least one full-time employee who receives a federal tax credit through an exchange, must compensate the government for that expense. Of the two provisions, this one can surely use some modification, since it could encourage employers to fire, or not to hire, low-wage workers with children or unemployed spouses who qualify for government assistance.