The GOP’s Tiny Obamacare ‘Ransom’

Hoping to defund or delay health care reform, Republicans got almost nothing

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor after agreeing to the framework of a deal to avoid default and reopen the government.

An end to the government shutdown was within sight Wednesday night, and it was hard to see how Republicans could come out looking victorious. Originally demanding a gutting of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, they repeatedly scaled back to more modest goals, and the Senate deal to resolve the standoff includes almost none of their Obamacare demands.


The one concession granted Republicans involves income verification requirements for people receiving subsidies to purchase health insurance under the law. In the absence of a final agreement in Congress, details on the deal are scant, but basically the provision is an anti-fraud measure designed to prevent someone whose income is too high to qualify for an insurance subsidy from cheating the system and getting a subsidy anyway. The new provision requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to certify that income verification systems are in place and working properly so that only truly eligible people get subsidies. An inspector general would then be required to produce a report affirming that the program is working properly.

The change is modest at best and is, in some ways, hardly a concession. Verification systems were always part of the law, implementation of them was just delayed in favor of what the White House deemed to be more pressing matters.

“If it is what I think it is, it is a benign change,” Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told TIME. Aaron said the federal government, in implementing the Affordable Care Act, had simply narrowed down its “to-do list” to essential items, and strengthening income verification systems was placed on the back burner.

“I have no doubt that they always wanted to tighten verification and always planned to do so, once they had gotten the ‘we have to get this right NOW’ items dealt with,” Aaron said. “So, if I am reading things right, this was a really easy ‘concession’ to give—‘we were planning to do this later, in any event; if it means so much to you, we’ll do it now.’ “

Even so, last month Obama threatened to veto a similar measure, and if the White House was planning to address the issue it would have preferred to do so later, once Obamacare is more firmly in place. But White House spokesman Jay Carney rejected the idea Wednesday that the income verification concession amounted to paying a “ransom” to the GOP, something he had pledged not to do.

“We have always said we are willing to make improvements and adjustments to the law,” Carney said. “Ransom would be a wholly different thing.”