Boehner Asks If White House 'Has Just Abandoned the Individual Mandate'

By Susan Jones | March 14, 2014 | 7:24 AM EDT

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks at a news conference on Thursday, March 13, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( - "Quietly and without any fanfare, there is a real question whether the White House has just abandoned the individual mandate, the heart of Obamacare itself," House Speaker John Boehner told a news conference on Thursday.

The mandate requires every American to purchase purchase health insurance or else pay a penalty to the IRS.

"The president has always claimed that getting rid of the individual mandate is tantamount to gutting Obamacare, yet the White House quietly added a new hardship exemption for essentially everyone. And it just seems that they're hoping that no one will notice," Boehner said.

"This is a huge public policy decision that could affect millions of Americans. Tomorrow (Friday) the House is going to vote to delay the individual mandate tax and give everyone the same extension that the White House has already given them, yet the White House opposes the bill. Frankly, I think the American people deserve some explanation as to what the White House really is doing."

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Health and Human Services Administration deliberately buried -- in an unrelated regulation -- a rule that further delays the individual mandate. Specifically, HHS has extended until 2016 the “hardship exemption” for those who had their previous policies canceled because of Obamacare.

According to the newspaper, to get a hardship exemption, "Now all you need to do is fill out a form attesting that your plan was cancelled and that you 'believe that the plan options available in the [ObamaCare] Marketplace in your area are more expensive than your cancelled health insurance policy' or 'you consider other available policies unaffordable.'

But the Associated Press cited HHS officials as saying that the rule change was made in December and it was designed to permit a limited number of individuals to seek a hardship exemption from the individual mandate.

Asked if Republicans risk overplaying their hand on Obamacare, Boehner said Republicans "need to stay focused on what the American people are focused on, and that's jobs and the economy. But don't underestimate the amount of impact that Obamacare is having on the job market."

And even if President Obama has delayed the individual mandate for millions of Americans, Boehner predicted that "the worst is yet to come."