Country Struggles to Meet Health Law Deadline

July 11, 2013

When Obama administration officials delayed a central plank of the new health law -- requiring that big employers offer health insurance to workers -- they said it was to help businesses pleading for more time. Left unsaid was that the federal government hadn't written key rules guiding employers, according to current and former administration officials, and computer systems that were supposed to run the program weren't operational, says the Wall Street Journal.

To comply with the employer mandate, companies needed rules for reporting data to the government each month, including the names and Social Security numbers of anyone who worked full-time for at least one month during the year, plus information on the insurance offered and its price. Among the questions the administration hadn't answered in time:

  • Should companies be required to report month-by-month details about who they employed?
  • Should employers who already offer insurance be subject to the same rules?
  • What happens if workers say they weren't offered adequate insurance but employers say they were?

To make it all work, businesses and the Internal Revenue Service, which is in charge of handling this element of the law, needed new computer systems, which couldn't be built before the rules were written.

The stakes are now higher for the rollout of the law's centerpiece -- new, government-run exchanges where individuals can shop for private insurance. That is a bigger logistical and technological challenge. The government's computer systems are being tested now, but computer experts say there is no way to know how well they will work ahead of the Oct. 1 launch.

Some conservatives argue the Obama administration delayed the employer mandate to avoid a political mess during the 2014 midterm elections. Others say the political damage today is greater: Republicans have called for a delay of the entire law, including the requirement that individuals carry insurance.

Source: Laura Meckler, Jennifer Corbett Dooren and Peter Nicholas, "U.S. Struggles to Meet Health-Law Deadline," Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2013.

 

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