WASHINGTON – White House officials have prepared an executive order that would weaken the Affordable Care Act's requirement that taxpayers demonstrate proof of insurance, according to people briefed on the matter, suggesting they will issue it if congressional Republicans cannot achieve the same goal through the tax reform process.
President Donald Trump supports abolishing the insurance requirement, called the individual mandate, but he cannot eliminate it unilaterally because it is enshrined in law. Given that several Republican bills aimed at unraveling the ACA have failed, Trump and his deputies are now seeking other ways to scale back the requirement for health care coverage.
The renewed push underscores the extent to which health care — an issue Republicans had hoped to shelve to focus on tax reform — refuses to fade away. Conservatives see rolling back the mandate as a way to cut federal spending while achieving a key policy priority, but it could complicate the tax bill's prospect for passage.
The draft order would broaden the "hardship exemption" that the Obama administration established for those who face extraordinary circumstances, according to people familiar with the matter. These people asked for anonymity because the order has not been issued yet, and they cautioned that the White House is continuing to press congressional leaders to change the requirement through legislation.
The Treasury Department, which enforces the mandate, has traditionally granted this exemption in cases such as the death of a family member, bankruptcy, a natural disaster or when a taxpayer cannot afford to pay his or her utilities.
Eliminating the individual mandate outright would spark a firestorm among Democrats as well as some centrist Republicans, because it is seen as a powerful incentive to encourage healthier consumers to sign up for health insurance.