How the IRS Scandal May Hurt Obamacare

The agency's missteps give the GOP a new way to fight the Affordable Care Act.

The IRS will administer some of the most important provisions of the Affordable Care Act. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
The IRS will administer some of the most important provisions of the Affordable Care Act. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(The Root) — So what if Senate Democrats foiled House Republicans’ repeal of Obamacare — for the 37th time? GOP lawmakers are drawing renewed hope of blocking the law’s enactment from, of all things, the IRS scandal.

What does the Internal Revenue Service have to do with the Affordable Care Act? Everything.

Since the government will demand that every American have health coverage, it has to know who can and can’t afford it. The IRS is the only agency with that information.

When President Obama’s heath care law takes full effect in 2014, the IRS will administer some of the most important provisions, such as the mandated purchase of health insurance. To enforce that most vilified requirement, the agency will issue penalties to individuals who don’t buy insurance and businesses that don’t provide it for employees. As if enough Americans didn’t already hate the IRS.

In addition, the IRS will administer the distribution of money through state exchanges to help low-income people afford insurance. The subsidies, which are the costliest piece of the law, are structured as tax credits.

The IRS has received $500 million from the Department of Health and Human Services to cover implementation. The president’s 2014 proposed budget asks Congress to approve $1 billion more for implementation and enforcement. And the IRS wants extra money to hire hundreds of new employees for the effort.

For Obamacare, the timing of the controversy over the IRS’s targeted scrutiny of conservative groups, as revealed in an inspector general’s audit, couldn’t have been worse.

Now Republican lawmakers can make a stronger case to deny the IRS funding, citing their concerns about expanding the authority of such a troubled agency.

“Obamacare empowers the agency that just violated the public’s trust by secretly targeting conservative groups,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) said last week after the Republican-led House voted to fully repeal the law, a move that the Democratic-controlled Senate has ignored. “Even by Washington’s standards, that’s unacceptable.”