Changes to Obamacare are coming | Don C. Brunell

Maybe there is finally something Democrats and Republicans can agree on – fixing the Affordable Care Act.

Maybe there is finally something Democrats and Republicans can agree on – fixing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

From the day it was signed into law in 2010, Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to repeal Obamacare, saying it is unworkable and unaffordable. Until this year, Democrats have held the line for the President. But not now.

After the President leaves office, change will come. The first is repeal of the so-called Cadillac Tax, the 40 percent excise tax on generous health care plans, which is scheduled to begin in 2018.

According to the President, the excise tax is one of the main revenue sources for the ACA, helps curb healthcare costs, and is a big deterrent to income inequality in healthcare. It is also a way to fill an $87 billion budget gap.

Repealing the Cadillac Tax is supported by key business groups which have been looking for ways to make the ACA more affordable. Repeal is also supported by organized labor, which negotiated generous health care benefits as part of their union contracts. The tax would hit taxpayers, as well, who pay for the healthcare benefits of government workers, teachers, firefighters and police.

According to a poll commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other national business organizations, 72 percent of Americans oppose the tax.

For Democrat presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, opposing the President on his health care excise tax is low-risk because even her primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, agrees.

Clinton has lobbied for mandated health care coverage since 1992 when she was First Lady.

She thought she had the prototype when Democrats took control of the Washington State legislature in 1992 when our state’s new governor, Mike Lowry, a former Democrat congressman, jammed through a law that required employers – except those with union contracts – to provide standardized employee health care plans designed by the state.

The crack in the Washington law was it needed a waiver from the federal ERISA law in order to mandate that Washington employers provide the state-approved insurance coverage. ERISA was put in place in 1972 to ensure that a company’s employee benefits were uniform from state to state.

When the ERISA waiver failed, Gov. Lowry signed legislation that allowed groups of small employers to band together in associations in order to offer health insurance. By forming large associations, small employers gained the same leverage as big corporations to negotiate lower employee health care premiums.

That law has worked, and today those associations provide affordable health coverage for more than a half million workers and their families.

Nationally, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the mandate issue in 2012. By a 5–4 margin, the court ruled that the ACA is constitutional and gave its blessing to the law’s most controversial component, known as the “individual mandate.”

The mandate requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a “shared responsibility payment” to the government. In 2016, that fee is 2.5% of your annual income or $695 per person, whichever is higher.

The court held specifically the individual mandate is not a “penalty,” as the health-care law identified it, but a tax, and is therefore a constitutional application of Congress’s taxation power.

While the Supreme Court deflated attempts to bring down the Affordable Care Act, the Democrat’s most recent rebellion against key parts of Obamacare signals that both parties are now in the mood to figure out how to pay for the ACA and make health insurance affordable.

In a time when our federal deficit is soaring and will soon pass $19 trillion, taxpayers cannot afford to fork over another $1.2 trillion between now and 2025 to pay for Obamacare as we know it today.


Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at


More in Business

Streamlining regulations helps Americans compete

The cost of regulations is a key American competitiveness issue. It is a major reason our companies re-locate to other countries and our manufacturers and farmers have difficulties competing internationally.

Railroads implementing positive track

While the investigation continues into the deadly AMTRAK derailment near Dupont, the clock continues to tick on the implementation of Positive Track Control (PTC). The deadline is Dec. 31, 2018.

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Finding balance in occupational licensing

Recently, the Institute for Justice (Institute) determined state licensing barriers for lower-income workers and aspiring entrepreneurs not only hurts people trying to establish themselves in a profession, but annually drives consumer prices up by $203 billion.

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Remembering Ed Carlson, Vietnam POW

Since last Veteran’s Day, Ken Burns’ in-depth documentary on the Vietnam War has aired. It is a powerful reminder of an unpopular war in which many “baby boomers” fought and died.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.