Obama on Healthcare Mandates: 'Our Goal Here Is Not to Punish Folks'
President Obama said a day after the employer mandates for healthcare coverage were delayed that the penalties assessed on those not carrying insurance aren't intended "to punish folks."
The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced yesterday that businesses employing 50 to 99 workers won’t be assessed penalties on the non-insured until 2016. Employers with 100 or more workers will be able to phase in coverage to 70 percent of full-time workers in 2015 and 95 percent in 2016 and beyond to avoid being assessed fines starting next year.
Appearing at a joint press conference with visiting French President Francois Hollande, Obama said the announcement "was fairly straightforward."
"The overwhelming majority of firms in this country already provide health insurance to their employees and are doing the right thing. The small percentage that do not, many of them are very small and are already exempted by law, so you have just this small category of folks who don't provide health insurance, weren't exempted by law. They are supposed to make sure that they meet their responsibilities so that their employees aren't going to the emergency room, jacking up everybody else's costs, and the employers end up not having any responsibility for them," Obama said.
"What we did yesterday was simply to make an adjustment in terms of their compliance, because for many of these companies, just the process of complying -- you know, they're midsize, between 50 and 100 folks -- it may take them some time, even if they're operating in good faith. And we want to make sure that the purpose of the law is not to punish them. It's simply to make sure that they are either providing health insurance to their employees or that they're helping to bear the costs of their employees getting health insurance," he continued.
Republicans jumped on Obama for refusing to allow individuals the same tax-penalty relief. The president called his actions "consistent, actually, with what we've done in the individual mandate."
"The vast majority of Americans want health insurance. Many of them couldn't afford it. We provide them tax credits. But even with the tax credits, in some cases they still can't afford it, and we have hardship exemptions, phase-ins, to make sure that nobody is unnecessarily burdened. That's not the goal. The goal is to make sure that folks are healthy and have decent health care," Obama said.
"And so this was an example of administratively us making sure that we're smoothing out this transition, giving people the opportunities to get right with the law, but recognizing that there are going to be circumstances in which people are trying to do the right thing and it may take a little bit of time."
Obama added that "our goal here is not to punish folks."
"Our goal is to make sure that we've got people who can count on the financial security that health insurance provides. And where we've got companies that want to do the right thing and are trying to work with us, we want to make sure that we're working with them, as well. And that's going to be our attitude about, you know, the law generally. How do we make it work for the American people and for their employers in an optimal sort of way?"