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Budget deal includes some setbacks for Obamacare

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WASHINGTON — Republican opponents of President Obama’s health care law may do better by dismantling the Affordable Care Act piece by piece.

Under the budget deal passed by Congress and signed by the president last month, a widely criticized tax on high-cost employer health insurance plans has been delayed and two taxes already being collected have been temporarily suspended.

Political insiders point out that in contrast to frontal attacks on “Obamacare” that have repeatedly failed, this “delay and suspend’’ strategy could succeed, since delays and suspensions often become permanent.

Opponents are already looking for other provisions that could be separated from the law like the “employer mandate,” a requirement that larger companies offer coverage or risk fines. Part of the mandate is a controversial definition of a full-time worker as someone who averages 30 hours a week. Critics say it discourages companies from hiring full-time employees.

But supporters of the health care law are trying to downplay the consequences of the budget deal as superficial — it did not touch coverage provisions that have reduced the nation’s uninsured rate to a historic low of 9%, and Obama himself announced that 6 million people had signed up for 2016 coverage, with what was then more than a month left in open-enrollment season.

The spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the president includes a $2 billion increase in the budget for the National Institutes of Health, the biggest NIH budget increase in a dozen years. The NIH allocation includes a $350 million increase for Alzheimer’s research and $350 million in additional monies to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

NIH director Francis Collins called the funding bill “the most encouraging budget outcome in 12 years. This increase comes at just the right time to take advantage of remarkable opportunities to improve human health, powered by dramatic advances in scientific knowledge and technological innovation.”

Also praising the $1.1 trillion budget is the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. HIMSS and other organizations have advocated for greater government support for combatting cyberthreats, and the budget legislation calls for creation of a health care industry cybersecurity task force.

As for delaying certain tax provisions within the ACA, the White House and some economists have defended the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans. But lawmakers agreed to delay the tax — originally slated to take effect in 2018 ­­— by two years.

The tax package also includes a one-year delay in a separate annual fee on health insurance providers. Insurance companies say that this levy is passed on to consumers, increases premiums and imposes a financial hardship on small businesses.

Also responding to the spending plan was the National Retail Federation. The NRF welcomed final passage by Congress of the wide-ranging spending and tax-relief package, citing provisions that would delay onerous portions of Obamacare, make it easier for businesses to share cyberthreats, and renew tax law that helps retailers create jobs while laying the groundwork for comprehensive tax reform.

“Congress has finally taken away the threat of a government shutdown that has threatened our nation’s economy the past few months, and given both consumers and businesses some certainty on what to expect in the future,” NRF senior vice president for government relations David French said. “In addition to funding the government, this legislation is the first step toward fundamental tax reform that our economy so urgently needs.

“Retailers are pleased to be getting relief from provisions of the Affordable Care Act that would have driven up the cost of health insurance and made it harder for families to get good coverage,” French said.


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