WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans in Congress don't usually fight for tax increases, especially ones that are part of President Barack Obama's health care law.
But GOP senators balked when Democrats proposed delaying a new temporary fee on everyone covered by health insurance.
So employers, insurance companies and other health plan sponsors are in line to pay $63 a person next year for everyone who has coverage. The temporary fee covers all workers, spouses and dependents covered by health insurance.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., proposed delaying the fee in recent budget talks with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell and other Republican senators objected; the fee was left intact.
GOP senators complained the delay was basically a favor for labor unions, traditional Democratic allies that oppose the new fee.
"It's beyond ironic that the mantra from the president and the Democrats has been, 'There can't be any changes to Obamacare. After all, it's the law of the land,'" said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. "And then big labor comes along and wants a change and, lo and behold, there's got to be a change."
But also opposing the fee are large employers, traditional Republican allies, even though in many cases the fee probably will be passed on to workers.
"It's a sizeable expense. For some of my employers it's millions of dollars a year and we don't get anything from it," said Gretchen Young, senior vice president for health policy at the ERISA Industry Committee, a group that represents large employers on benefits issues. "It's definitely not solely a union issue."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said the proposed delay was meant to balance Republican demands for other changes to the health law. Republicans in Congress have been attacking the law since it was passed in 2010, and earlier this month, they forced a partial government shutdown over Obama's refusal to negotiate changes.
The temporary fee on people with health insurance is designed to raise $25 billion over the next three years. The money will provide a cushion for insurers from the initial hard-to-predict costs of covering previously uninsured people with medical problems. Under the law, insurers will be forbidden, effective Jan. 1, 2014, to turn away applicants who are ill.