Will Obamacare survive, fall apart, or succumb to repeal under a new president in 2017? Five implications of this week’s retreat on the employer mandate:

• Delaying from 2014 until 2015 the rule that mid-sized and large employers provide coverage to their workers or pay a penalty risks driving up the cost of Obamacare: Remember, one goal of this mandate was to have employers shoulder, from the get-go, a big share of insurance costs so that taxpayers wouldn’t go broke subsidizing the employees’ insurance. A delay that lets employers off a payment hook stands to put taxpayers on it.

• Rising expenses would mean more than the usual discomfort for sponsors of any new law that has cost overruns. Republicans already are crowing about President Barack Obama’s many reiterations of a double-down promise he made to a joint session of Congress on health care in September 2009: “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits, either now or in the future. I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period.” The likelihood that rolling back this mandate raises the law’s costs will embolden opponents who’ll try harder than ever to strip funding from Obamacare as budget negotiations intensify this summer: He said not one dime, remember?

• Tuesday’s embarrassment follows the administration’s earlier and equally reluctant delay of a provision that would have given a choice of insurance plans to workers at small businesses. Those employers instead will do the choosing for employees: A federal pledge of comprehensive coverage may, in the end, yield something much less.

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