John O'Connor

When the Obama administration recently announced it would push back the healthcare law’s employer insurance mandate for another year, many a long-term care operator rejoiced.

That’s because an alarming number of providers were perplexed, if not angry, by what exactly they would be required to do come January. So at a minimum, it would appear the industry has bought itself another year of purgatorial doubt.

In announcing the delay, the Treasury Department admitted current rules are too complex and burdensome. The folks working two blocks from the White House also promised a simplified, more streamlined refinement. And, yes, the Internal Revenue Service is a bureau within the Treasury Department, so feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Even fellow Democrats are apparently beginning to realize the law’s employer mandate provisions might prove dicey. In fact, it’s starting to look like the requirement could do something truly regrettable — cost them votes. Small wonder there was nary a whimper from Democrats when the reprieve, er, delay was announced.

So what’s going to happen? I’m guessing there will be more postponing and tweaking. Some business groups would like the measure adjusted so that only people working 40 or more hours a week would be covered. The health law currently says 30 hours is full time. But some providers have complained that despite an ongoing worker shortage, they would have to trim employees’ hours to escape mandate penalties. You can’t make this stuff up.

For as unpopular as Obamacare is becoming, it’s worth remembering why it was originally justified: We needed to do something to make healthcare better while reducing costs, right? But it would appear that this work in progress is going to need some work if it is going to make more progress on either front.

It’s also worth noting that we wouldn’t even be considering this law if Chief Justice John Roberts hadn’t performed one of the great judicial flip-flops in history. Well, maybe it wasn’t a flip-flop. Let’s just say that on the most important case he has faced so far, he voted in a way that has many of his former friends and colleagues now calling him a traitor to his class.

And I don’t mean to sound bitter, but his unlikely endorsement of Obamacare has already cost me one lunch. Of course, by the time this cost savings plan is paid for, the tab will likely be a bit higher. Stay tuned.

John O’Connor is the editorial director at McKnight’s. Follow him on Twitter at @ltcritr.