Politics & Government

N.C. lawmakers’ quest to kill part of Obamacare shows up in budget deal

Congressman Robert Pittenger speaks to the audience during a town hall meeting in Mooresville on Aug. 11,2015. Pittenger helped introduce legislation two years ago that was included in this week’s budget deal. .
Congressman Robert Pittenger speaks to the audience during a town hall meeting in Mooresville on Aug. 11,2015. Pittenger helped introduce legislation two years ago that was included in this week’s budget deal. . rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

An effort two years ago by Charlotte-area Reps. Richard Hudson and Robert Pittenger to repeal part of President Barack Obama’s health care law has made its way into the sweeping budget deal struck between Republican congressional leaders and the White House.

The two introduced their slim, one-sentence legislation in 2013 – repeating earlier efforts among Republicans – that would have eliminated the Obamacare mandate requiring companies with at least 200 full-time workers to automatically sign up new hires for health insurance and allow them to opt out.

The Hudson-Pittenger legislation went nowhere two years ago, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., introduced the same bill again this year. But language appears in this week’s budget deal that says the same thing: The auto-enroll mandate is repealed.

Some experts of employer-sponsored health insurance, though, say the change really isn’t that significant. The mandate hadn’t yet taken effect.

“And there weren’t any signs that anyone was in a hurry to implement it,” said Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which researches health policy. “I really don’t know how much of an effect it’ll have.”

Pittenger touted the budget deal this week for repealing portions of Obamacare, supporting job growth and protecting seniors. But Hudson blasted the deal. He said the budget agreement would burden future generations by putting the country on a “path toward fiscal ruin.”

I really don’t know how much of an effect it’ll have.

Gary Claxton, Kaiser Family Foundation

Hudson, who missed the vote to attend his grandfather’s funeral in North Carolina, continued to support repealing the auto-enrollment provision, but spokeswoman Tatum Gibson said the overall deal only adds to a debt that’s already in the trillions of dollars.

“With legislation topping 140 pages, there’s bound to be one provision any member of Congress supports,” she said. “You have to look at the bigger picture.”

According to a Congressional Budget Office cost analysis on the budget deal, an estimated 750,000 fewer workers are now expected to enroll in insurance plans from their employers with the elimination of the Obamacare mandate.

While the requirement was originally scheduled to take effect in 2014, it’s not currently being enforced. The Department of Labor said employers would not be required to comply with requirements until it issues regulations, which hasn’t happened yet.

A group of employers and conservative groups, many of them in the retail and hospitality business, fought the measure. They complained the mandate was confusing to workers and burdensome for employers.

There was concern of workers being enrolled who didn’t want to be enrolled and losing a month’s premium before they could opt out. There also were concerns about people being enrolled when they already had spousal coverage and being double billed.

When announcing the budget deal this week that would avert a default on the government’s debt, then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, boasted that Republicans were dismantling Obamacare by eliminating a mandate that “forces workers to automatically enroll into employer-sponsored health care coverage that they may or may not want or need.”

750,000 Fewer workers expected to enroll in employer insurance plans because of the change.

Pittenger learned of the concerns from Mooresville-based Lowe’s Home Improvement and other local large and small business owners, according to Pittenger’s office. He was an original co-sponsor with Hudson, signing on after hosting an Obamacare forum for small businesses in which employers complained of the high cost and potential for job losses.

Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., introduced an earlier version of the legislation in 2011, while Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., introduced a Senate version.

Pittenger pointed out this week that repealing the auto-enroll provision was one of the first pieces of legislation he helped introduce.

America wants choices, not mandates.

Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.

“President Obama’s auto-enroll provision is a nanny state plan to force people into health insurance they may not want or need,” Pittenger said in an email response to questions. “Repealing auto-enroll does not decrease access to company health insurance, but does eliminate a costly and unnecessary regulatory burden which threatened jobs.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a small number of the 750,000 people who would not be automatically enrolled would likely sign up for Medicaid or another Obamacare plan. But 90 percent, the CBO said, would remain uninsured because they would not take action.

The potential savings over 10 years, according to the CBO, could reach nearly $8 billion.

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