Sam Uretsky

Job Killing by Hope Crushers

The new air of civility that has been promised in Washington hasn’t been enough to induce Republican to change the name of HR 2 from “The Repealing the Job-Killing Health-Care Law Act.” Now it’s true that Republicans have found that interjecting the words “job-killing” into every available space seems to serve their purposes well, but in this case, there’s no basis for the claim, and in some respects, health care reform would benefit job seekers.

The “job killing”claim apparently derives from a paragraph in an August 2010 Congressional Budget Office Economic Outlook Update. The Republicans have already disputed many of the CBO’s conclusions about health-care reform, including the conclusion that the law would result in major cost savings and reduce the Federal deficit, but here they’ve found a statement that, through misinterpretation, they can like. On page 48 of the report, the CBO speculates: “The expansion of Medicaid and the availability of subsidies through the exchanges will effectively increase beneficiaries’ financial resources. Those additional resources will encourage some people to work fewer hours or to withdraw from the labor market.” That is, because the The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148) and the Health Care Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (PL 111-152) will make health insurance more affordable, some people may be in a position to cut back their hours, or retire and leave the workforce.

Elsewhere in that section the report speculates: “Other provisions in the legislation are also likely to diminish people’s incentives to work. Changes to the insurance market, including provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people because of preexisting conditions and that restrict how much prices can vary with an individual’s age or health status, will increase the appeal of health insurance plans offered outside the workplace for older workers. As a result, some older workers will choose to retire earlier than they otherwise would.” Ezra Klein in the Washington Post has noted that a reduction in the size of the work force isn't the same as a reduction in the number of jobs. For millions of people looking for work, less competition would help a lot.

Far from being job-killing, it means the end of a health insurance serfdom where people are tied to their jobs because they can’t give up their health insurance. People who might go off on their own and start their own businesses can’t take the risk because they can’t afford to buy health insurance, or couldn’t get insured because of a pre-existing condition. Other people might be prepared to retire early, creating a job opening or promotion for somebody else, but they stay with a job because they need the health coverage that comes with it.

House Speaker John Boehner breaks into tears when discussing The American Dream, but for an uncounted number of people, the dream is tethered by the need to stay with a health insurance policy. In any event, the CBO report also says that the law provides work incentives that may balance the disincentives, assuming the jobs are available. By raising the income level for Medicaid eligibility, people who might have been afraid to work or take better jobs, because it would mean the end of their health coverage, can afford to work and better their lives.

The Republican rush to repeal the law is likely to backfire if the Democrats ever succeed in communicating what’s in the law — although they haven’t done a good job of that so far. While a January 2011 Gallop poll showed that 46% of the public favors repeal compared to 40% who would let it stand, there were no follow-up questions about individual provisions of the law. It’s hard to imagine parents of a college age student favoring a roll-back to where their children were dropped from family coverage at age 19. It’s equally hard to imagine a majority of people approving a return to letting insurers go searching for a “pre-existing condition” that can let them off the hook for covering cancer or other expensive disease. Even a Rasmussen poll (Rasmussen polls usually find support for Republican positions) reported that most people want to retain many provisions of the law rather than go back to the earlier mess.

The Healthcare Reform Act is seriously flawed — a bow to the insurance companies who would get millions of new subscribers without the annoyance of even a demonstration version of a public option — but it does contain some important reforms. Calling the law “job-killing” fails the pants-on-fire test, but, as with so many other things in politics, that only matters if people ever find out.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2011

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