WASHINGTON — At a rally in Michigan a little over a week ago, President Trump assured his supporters that he had kept his promise to abolish the Affordable Care Act — even though Congress had failed to repeal the Obama-era health law.
“Essentially, we are getting rid of Obamacare,” Mr. Trump said, reminding a cheering crowd that the individual mandate that required most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty was scrapped as part of the Republican tax bill he signed into law last year. “Some people would say, essentially, we have gotten rid of it.”
But despite Mr. Trump’s longstanding desire to unwind the signature legislative achievement of his predecessor, many parts of the Affordable Care Act remain in place. And the Trump administration is even enforcing some of its provisions more aggressively than President Barack Obama did — a reality that has enraged business groups and Republicans in Congress who still want the law officially repealed.
While the individual mandate may be dead, the employer mandate — the requirement that many companies offer health insurance to their workers or pay a penalty — is very much alive. Under Mr. Trump, the Internal Revenue Service has been pursuing companies that fail to comply with the mandate and, according to the agency, was sending penalty notices to more than 30,000 businesses around the country.
Business groups are pushing for the I.R.S. to stop enforcing the mandate and House Republicans, who voted to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act a year ago, have proposed legislation to eliminate it. But most Democrats oppose major changes to the law and the Republican leaders in the Senate have shown no interest in tackling health care after last year’s stinging defeat.
The employer mandate requires companies with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health benefits to eligible employees or face fines of more than $2,000 per worker. The Congressional Budget Office predicted that these fines would total $12 billion in 2018.
The I.R.S. is working on settlements with some of the businesses that have had technical issues or paperwork glitches, according to David Kautter, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for tax policy and the acting I.R.S. commissioner.
But other companies that have failed to provide insurance will face stiff fines.
“I think it is horribly unfair and unjust,” Representative Jody Hice, a Republican from Georgia who has been a leading voice in the opposition to the employer mandate, said at a hearing where Mr. Kautter testified in April. “What I am asking at this point is for the I.R.S. to continue not to enforce it, as is what took place under the Obama administration,” he said, referring to a reprieve that was granted while businesses and the government sorted out compliance details.
Some lawyers contend that the I.R.S. is on shaky ground in trying to enforce the employer mandate penalties, arguing that the government has not followed proper procedures, like notifying employers that they were in violation of the law.
“The Affordable Care Act and federal regulations clearly state that a health insurance exchange must notify an employer that one or more employees qualified for premium tax credits before the I.R.S. can impose penalties,” said Christopher E. Condeluci, an employee benefits lawyer. “Most of the employers subject to penalties for 2015 never received the notices required under the law.”
E. Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation, said some penalties resulted from an employer’s failure to check a particular box on a government form indicating that it had offered coverage to eligible employees.
In one case, Mr. Trautwein said, a $20 million penalty was imposed on a restaurant chain because one of its vendors had failed to check the proper box. “The penalty was negotiated down to zero,” Mr. Trautwein said. “It was an inadvertent mistake in filling out a complicated new form.”