Republicans in Congress are once again scheming to gut The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, which was signed into law in March 2010. Of all the laws enacted under President Barack Obama, this one has emerged as the universal scapegoat for administrators, governors, pundits, and policymakers across the United States, and its implementation triggered a rash of doom-saying and blame that continues nearly six years later.
Do any of these claims have merit? Below are some of the more common charges brought against the law, along with a few reality checks.
Increasing part-time workers
One of the most common charges hurled at Obamacare is that it has increased part-time work at the expense of full-time jobs, as employers seek to skirt the law’s mandated coverage of full-time workers. While several hundred thousand workers, mainly low-wage employees, have seen their hours cut, there has also been a marked increase in part-time workers who are voluntarily reducing their hours.
In fact, the incidence of “voluntary” part-time workers, those who are satisfied with part-time pay and its rewards, has hovered around 19 percent of the labor force, whereas percentage of “involuntarily” part-time workers, whose hours have been cut for economic reasons, has dropped from 6.4 percent at the peak of the Great Recession to 4.9 percent.
So although it’s true that some companies are cutting hours, the number of affected workers is relatively small, and it’s exceedingly difficult to separate the effects of Obamacare from the long-lasting turmoil created by the Great Recession. In 1968, the United States labor force consisted of 13.5 percent part-timers. In 2010, when the recession was at its worst, that number was 20.1 percent. It has since dropped to 18.2 percent as of October 2015.
In October 2015, the Clay County (TN) School District, which has struggled with budget issues for past three years, closed its doors indefinitely to students. The county director of schools stated that “the straw that broke the camel’s back was really the Affordable Care Act,” which, he claimed, “has made it very difficult for us to have our employees properly covered and meet the mandates of the law.”
According to the Tennessee Education Association, the ACA does not require any major changes to educators’ healthcare coverage. The employees that would be hardest hit would have been auxiliary workers, like cafeteria assistants, bus drivers, and teacher’s aides, but since they generally do not work full time (defined as more than 30 hours per week), school districts would not be obligated to insure them.
Contributing to economic inequality
One of the most peculiar accusations leveled against Obamacare was made by former House Speaker John Boehner, who, in response to Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, charged that the ACA helps promote economic inequality.
But according to a 2014 Brookings Institution study, those in the bottom fifth of income distribution will see substantial income gains under the ACA, thanks to their health insurance being subsidized by the government. The entire point of the ACA has been to expand insurance coverage to those who could not afford it. Moreover, wages appear to be going up, not down.
Increasing the ranks of the uninsured
Obamacare critics also charge that the law has actually reduced the number of insured. In poorer states that have historically relied on federal healthcare programs like Medicaid for widespread coverage, this is true. Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi is one of many Republican governors who have rejected the Obamacare Medicaid subsidy, and as a direct result Mississippi’s uninsured rate has risen.
Nationally, the scene is quite different. In 2010, the uninsured rate was above 16 percent. It had fallen to below 13 percent by the end of 2014, and there’s every indication that it will continue to drop.
Instituting a new form of slavery(!)
In cataloging the delirium surrounding Obamacare, it would be hard to ignore the words of a current major GOP contender for the presidency, Ben Carson, who made an astonishing revelation about the ACA at the Values Voter Summit in 2013.
“Obamacare is . . . the worst thing that has happened to this nation since slavery,” charged Carson. “It is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control.”
Whatever one’s opinion of Obamacare, it is hard to support claims that it has been the disaster so many prophesized. But there’s one prediction in the ACA debate that will likely come true: It’s going to be politically challenging to cancel the policies of the 15 million people who are newly insured thanks to Obamacare.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.
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