U.S. House votes to delay Obamacare's individual mandate

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 05, 2014 3:59 PM

By David Morgan and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to delay for one year the tax penalty Americans will pay under President Barack Obama's healthcare law if they decline to enroll in health coverage for this year.

The measure passed by a vote of 250-160, with 27 Democrats joining with 223 Republicans to back the legislation. But the bill is expected to go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate and would face a White House veto even if it succeeded.

The vote, part of a Republican election-year attack strategy against the 2010 healthcare law known as Obamacare, marked the 50th time House Republicans had passed legislation to try to repeal or dismantle it.

Supporters of the bill cast the new legislation as an issue of fairness, arguing that individual consumers should be granted a delay on the penalty because the Obama administration had postponed the implementation of some Obamacare provisions that apply to businesses.

Analysts say an individual mandate delay would undermine the law's aim of extending health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans by destabilizing new private insurance marketplaces established on the expectation the penalty would encourage people to enroll in coverage.

More than 4 million people have already enrolled in private insurance through the marketplaces. The open enrollment period ends on March 31.

One of Obamacare's most unpopular provisions, the individual mandate requires most Americans to be enrolled in health coverage by March 31 or pay a tax penalty that is being phased in over three years.

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The penalty is set to rise from the greater of $95 per adult or 1 percent of family income for 2014 to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of family income for 2016. The 2014 penalty is due, along with individual income tax returns, by April 15, 2015.

The House legislation would set the 2014 penalty at "zero" and start the clock for the three-year phase-in to start running again on January 1, 2015.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Peter Cooney)