Executive Order Affirms Commitment to Repeal the ACA; Makes No Immediate Changes for Employers
Within hours of being sworn in on Friday, January 20, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order (the Order), that affirmed the administration’s policy of seeking “the prompt repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Order, however, neither specifically mentions employers nor has any immediate impact on employers’ obligations under the ACA.
It is important to note that the one-page Order does not repeal any specific provision of the ACA, much of which is governed by existing law and regulations that cannot be eliminated with the stroke of even the Presidential pen.
Instead, the Order directs the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services the heads of other federal agencies “with authorities and responsibilities under” the ACA to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them”, “to the maximum extent permitted by law,” to:
- “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement” of the ACA that “would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax , penalty, or regulation burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchaser of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications”; and to
- “provide greater flexibility to States and cooperate with them in implementing healthcare programs.”
Each “department or agency with responsibilities relating to healthcare or health insurance” is directed, “to the maximum extent permitted by law,” to:
- “encourage the development of a free and open market in interstate commerce for the offering o healthcare services and health insurance, with the goal of achieving and preserving maximum options for patients and consumers.”
While some pundits have quipped that the Order is a license for employers to cease complying with the ACA or to cease offering health insurance, no such authority is contained in the Order. What the Order may permit is greater discretion in granting “hardship exemptions” from the individual mandate. Federal officials in the new administration might also be more receptive to state requests for waivers under Medicaid.
We advise employers to continue to observe the ACA status quo, which includes continuing to focus on complying with ACA Employer Reporting obligations (using IRS Form 1095-C) for the 2016 calendar year.
This is because, as the Order specifically states, any revision of existing regulations can only be changed under the rules of the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires the public issuance of proposed rules, followed by a period of public input. Despite the new administration’s Order (and the House of Representative’s January 13 vote to begin repealing the ACA), there is no specific change currently available for employers in 2017.
Instead, employers should continue to heed ACA requirements. Only agency rulemaking or congressional action could relieve employers of ACA reporting and other obligations, but either type of action would likely take significant time.
We will continue to monitor developments regarding the possible repeal of the ACA and how any subsequent actions may affect employers’ obligations.