ACA’s individual, employer mandates aimed at frayed edges of U.S. private health coverage

Daniel Weintraub penned an opinion piece appearing in today’s Sacramento Bee that laments the likely continuation of employer-sponsored health coverage under the Affordable Care Act – notwithstanding the Obama administration’s decision this month to delay enforcement of penalties against employers of 50 or more who don’t offer their employees health coverage meeting minimum standards of quality and affordability.  Weintraub argues – and many across the political spectrum would agree with him – that employers shouldn’t be in the business of providing health coverage to their employees (and might not be, but for a 1940s quirk of history) and that it should be left to individuals and families to buy what’s best for their needs. In this vein, Weintraub favors a 2011 proposal to amend the ACA to allow employees of companies with 100 or fewer workers to take their employer’s health care contribution and buy coverage in the state health benefit exchange marketplace.

That sounds a lot like an existing provision at Section 10108 of the ACA that allows employers to provide “free choice vouchers” to their employees to buy coverage on the exchange marketplace.  Employers however would still have to offer their employees minimum essential coverage and could only offer the vouchers to employees whose share would be between 8 and 9.8 percent of their household income. Plus the employee’s household income could not exceed 400 percent of the federal poverty limit.

The debate over both the employer and individual mandate is heating up again, a little more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the latter in NFIB v. Sebelius.  Both mandates are aimed at the frayed edges of the pre-ACA health insurance market and don’t affect the majority of Americans covered through their employers or government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. In the large group market, the employer mandate is directed at a small minority of large employers that pay low wages and provide little in the way of health benefits. At the other end of the market, the individual mandate hopes to help restore that market segment to actuarial and functional health. Both are governmental market interventions intended to trim these rough, problematic margins of the current system of private health coverage.  Whether they are ultimately successful won’t be known for several years.


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email or call 530-295-1473. 

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Frederick Pilot

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