By Froma Harrop
Rarely has a bad-news story offered so little real bad news. We refer to the Congressional Budget Office report that the Affordable Care Act may reduce the number of hours worked by the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time jobs. But to be precise, millions of workers will choose to cut their working hours. What’s bad about that if that’s what they want?
True, some will purposely earn less money to qualify for government health insurance subsidies. True, some employers may reduce workers’ hours to avoid paying the employer mandate — though the scare stories on that remain strictly anecdotal. When Massachusetts introduced a mandate in 2007, employers actually increased the number covered.
Many workers, however, will see not having to “work for the man” to get health coverage as liberation. Some will use this freedom to start the businesses they’ve always dreamed of. Parents may work fewer hours outside the home so that they can spend more time with their children.
What this does is hasten the process of delinking health coverage to place of employment. This is important in an economy where people change jobs often, hold two part-time positions in place of one or work part time to enhance family income rather than provide all of it. Some can work only part time because they’re going to school. And as suggested above, others can survive on part-time pay as they pursue other interests — starting a business being among them.
Meanwhile, jobs don’t necessarily go away because people quit them. We must be reminded that companies hire workers not as a charitable gesture but because they need their labor. The voluntary departure of full-time workers will create new openings for others.
Fear over losing health coverage has locked people into jobs they’d rather not have. That discourages entrepreneurship and trying new careers. The best health care reform proposals, including the conservative ones, emphasize coverage portability.
Obamacare continues the emphasis on employer-based insurance, but the promise that no one can be denied affordable coverage is already freeing entrepreneurs to launch new businesses. It’s no accident that startups spike among older Americans who reach Medicare age.
The CBO report includes other news that is undeniably good for Obamacare. The “risk corridor” provision — which Republicans led by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida termed “a blank check for a bailout of insurance companies” — is not going to cost taxpayers anything. Better than that, it’s going to save them $8 billion.
The risk corridor was created to reimburse insurers hit by an unanticipated influx of sick subscribers. Money contributed by insurers with lower-than-expected claims was to help the burdened ones. The CBO now says that the money going into the program will well exceed that paid out.
A bonus bit of other good news, the CBO has also announced that budget deficits will continue falling, from $1.4 trillion in 2009 to $478 billion by fiscal 2015. After that, they should start rising again.
Frankly, Obamacare is not the best health care reform this country could have achieved. The administration’s handling of it — from its inability to forcefully defend better policies to the shockingly incompetent rollout — has been pretty dismal. But, and this is a big but, the Affordable Care Act is so much better for the economy and the people than what we had before, and it can be improved on.
By enabling millions of Americans to customize their working hours without putting their families at risk of medical-bill bankruptcy, Obamacare is going to win more friends. When the public notices that contrary to the latest accusations, millions of jobs are not being liquidated by the reforms, the passions generated by yet another misleading headline will fade.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.