Burdens of Obamacare – Commentary

Note: This commentary was originally published by The Philadephia Inquirer.

Say you’re working your way through college, supplementing student loans with a part-time job managing inventory at Wegmans. You make a decent hourly wage, but your health insurance benefits are key, saving you thousands per year in premium costs.

Then, one Monday, your boss tells you part-timers are no longer eligible for benefits.

Do you go full time and watch your grades suffer? Do you take out more loans and dig yourself  deeper into debt? Do you risk going without insurance? Or do you enter an untested Obamacare exchange, pay thousands in premiums, and hope for the best?

These are the types of choices facing college students, single moms, and the working poor all across the state because of the growing burden of Obamacare.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all employers, including governments, with more than 50 employees must provide full-time workers with health insurance. Moreover, employer health-insurance plans must meet new federal regulations and mandates regarding the cost to employees. Failure to meet these mandates results in a substantial fine.

That’s a major burden on job creators around the country and here in Pennsylvania.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who visited Philadelphia last week and noted “the debate is really over” on Obamacare, continues to deny mounting evidence of the law’s adverse impact on workers, including higher premiums and fewer hours.

Earlier this summer, Wegmans grocery stores announced that they will cut benefits for part-timers. And in June, Wal-Mart dropped insurance for part-time workers.

What was the response from the White House to evidence of full-timers being pushed into part-time, non-benefits-eligible work? The Obama administration called such reports “anecdotal.”

Here’s more “anecdotal” evidence that can’t be ignored.

Popular clothing retailer Forever 21, which has several stores in Philadelphia, recently announced it will cut many workers’ hours to 29.5 per week—suspiciously just 30 minutes less than what is considered “full time” under Obamacare rules. The company officially denies the move was in response to new rules, but other businesses aren’t so shy. UPS blamed higher costs under the ACA for its decision to drop 15,000 spouses from employee-insurance plans.

The pain isn’t limited to the private sector, either.

Public school aides around the state are losing hours, pay, and, in some cases, even their jobs. Eastern Lancaster County School District and Dallas School District in Luzerne County are cutting back on support staff to avoid the ACA’s “employer mandate.” So where’s the outrage from teachers’ unions?

Ironically, government unions—ostensibly tasked with protecting public-sector workers’ best interests—enthusiastically supported the job-killing law.

For example, in 2012 and 2013 the National Education Association gave $250,000 to Health Care for America Now!—a group lobbying for Obamacare. The Service Employees International Union also launched $12 million in television ads supporting the law.

Not only are workers being hurt with fewer hours and less pay, but they will pay more for insurance under the ACA. So, too, will small businesses and full-time workers.

Three years into Obamacare, average family premiums have increased by $3,000. The CEO of Highmark predicts premiums will continue to rise—this after Highmark already increased Pennsylvania’s individual and small-group rates in 2010 and 2013. Meanwhile, Aetna raised premiums in Pennsylvania by 10 percent in 2011, noting the ACA as a significant cost driver.

Obamacare was intended to expand access to health insurance, but in practice it reduces employment and increases insurance costs through a complex labyrinth of rules and regulations.

Though government union leaders and other private special interests helped create the law, elected officials must now find ways to protect both public- and private-sector workers from skyrocketing premiums and reduced working hours. A good start would be leveling the playing field by giving those without employer-based insurance the same tax benefits businesses receive.

Obamacare is making it harder—not easier—for the average person to access health insurance, and making it more difficult to find a good job in an economy already plagued by employment woes.

Sebelius got it wrong — the debate on Obamacare is far from over.

# # #

Elizabeth Stelle is a policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.