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“Where Employees Are Treated With Contempt”: Obama Blasts Staples, And Reveals Larger Partisan Divide Over Workplace

Another big interview with President Obama came out today, this one from Buzzfeed, and this section, in which Obama slammed Staples for limiting employee hours, supposedly in response to Obamacare, is creating a bit of buzz:

BEN SMITH: If I can move on to the Affordable Care Act. We reported yesterday that the office supply store Staples is — I’m sure this is an issue you’ve heard about before — is telling its workers that it will fire them if they work more than 25 hours a week. A manager had told a worker we talked to that “Obama’s responsible for this policy,” and they’re putting these notices on the wall of their break room saying that. I wonder what you’d say to the CEO of Staples, Ronald Sargent, about that policy?

OBAMA: What I would say is that millions of people are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. Satisfaction is high. The typical premium is less than 100 bucks.

SMITH: But this is a specific consequence…

OBAMA: No, I’m gonna answer the question. And that there is no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act. I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages.

This is the same argument that I’ve made with respect to something like paid sick leave. We have 43 million Americans who, if they get sick or their child gets sick, are looking at either losing their paycheck or going to the job sick or leaving their child at home sick. It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers — even though a large percentage of those small businesses do it because they know it’s the right thing to do — but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

Obama obviously didn’t know any details of the Staples situation when he was asked the question, but Buzzfeed reported Monday that the company is becoming particularly aggressive in making sure its part-time workers don’t work more than 25 hours a week, now that an Affordable Care Act provision mandating that large companies offer health insurance to employees working over 30 hours is in effect. Staples says that the policy is years old and has nothing to do with health insurance; the employees Buzzfeed talked to say it’s being enforced with renewed vigor.

Regardless of those details, this is another example of the fundamental difference between the approach to workplace issues Obama is trying to move Democrats toward, and the ways that Republicans are pushing back. As I argued a few weeks ago when Obama raised the issue of paid sick leave — which the United States is alone among highly developed countries in not mandating — Republicans essentially want to help people get to the employer’s door, while Democrats want to go inside with the worker and help make the workplace more humane.

The Staples story illustrates the environment of so many contemporary American workplaces, where employees are treated with contempt and suspicion while being told how much they’re loved. The original Buzzfeed story contains a Staples memo threatening part-time employees with discipline up to termination if they clock in for more than 25 hours in a week. The memo ends with, “I appreciate and value you.” I’m sure that warmed the workers’ hearts.

There may be some part-time workers who find that in response to the ACA’s insurance mandate, their employers try to limit their hours in the way Staples is doing. That’s why Republicans want to change the mandate’s definition of full-time employment from 30 to 40 hours. But we should be clear about what would happen if Republicans got their way. Some number of people like those at Staples might be able to work a few more hours (though if Staples is telling the truth, it wouldn’t matter for their part-timers, because they’re adamant about keeping them below 25 hours regardless). But a much larger group — full-time hourly workers — would then be in danger of losing their health coverage.

Right now if a large company (remember, this provision only applies to large companies) wanted to cut a full-time employee’s hours so they wouldn’t have to offer her health insurance, they’d have to cut her all the way down from 40 to 29 hours, which in most cases just isn’t practical. But if the law’s definition of full-time work was 40 hours, they could cut her from 40 to 39 and be able to take away her health coverage, which would be a lot easier. One hopes that few companies would want to do that, and indeed, over nine out of ten large companies were already offering insurance to full-time workers even before the Affordable Care Act. But some would, and the number of employees at risk of losing their coverage would be much higher than it is under the current 30-hour definition.

The populist stance Obama is taking here is undoubtedly good politics; Republicans will try to say that they’re the ones on the side of the part-time workers, but voters generally understand that they’re always in favor of giving employers the power to treat employers however they wish. In any case, this kind of dispute is just one more reason why we should try to move away from a system where most people get insurance through their employers. If we did that, people wouldn’t have to rely on the generosity of their bosses, and we wouldn’t have to argue about who’s part-time and who’s full-time. And neither party has a particular stake in, or ideological commitment to, the employer-based insurance system; it’s an artifact of history. Moving beyond it would be a major change, and we all know by now that when it comes to their health coverage, people fear change. But it would be better for everybody.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 11, 2015

February 12, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Health Insurance, Wages | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ending Medicare As We Know It”: Here’s Why There Won’t Be A Republican Alternative To Obamacare

Republicans are sick of people saying they don’t have an alternative to Obamacare.

They have plenty!

And not just, “Don’t get sick! And if you do get sick, die quickly,” as Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said in 2009.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives just hasn’t voted on even one Obamacare alternative because it’s hard to fit stuff in when you only work 28 hours a week and have to squeeze in all those Obamacare repeals.

But they’re going to fix that problem in 2014, says Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).

The congressman has introduced his Obamacare alternative — the Empowering Patients First Act — three times since 2009. Price’s bill has never been given a vote, even though it has 50 co-sponsors, including the eminent Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

Price told Fox News that after the first of the year, Republican leaders are going to bring forth a bill that will “unite Republicans around health care issues” because “you can’t beat something with nothing.”

This logic runs contrary to Town Hall‘s Conn Carroll, who believes the House GOP won’t coalesce around one plan or, as he calls it, “a villain to run against.”

This has been the GOP strategy since 2010, and don’t expect it to change, despite the assurances the leadership has given to Rep. Price.

Price’s bill has never been scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). But a former Republican head of the CBO scored it independently and found that it saves trillions of dollars over 10 years and will reduce the uninsured population by 29 percent by 2016.

If this is true, why haven’t Republicans even put it up for a vote?

A quick look at H.R. 2300, the current version of Price’s bill, shows you why the GOP likely won’t propose an alternative to Obamacare — ever.

The bill starts off with Republicans’ favorite health care distractions — tort reform and selling across state lines.

If you eliminated every malpractice claim in America, that would only reduce the costs of our health care system by 1 to 1.5 percent – far less than implementing a public option.

Selling insurance over state lines would just give insurers the chance to sell plans from the state with the fewest regulations. The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein looked at a CBO report on a bill from 2005 that would have made national sales of state insurance plans possible and found “the legislation would not change the number of insured Americans or save much money, but it would make insurance more expensive for the sick and cheaper for the healthy, and lead to more healthy people with insurance and fewer sick people with insurance.”

The real goal of Price’s bill and just about every Republican reform of the health care system is to end the employer-provided health insurance dynamic that most Americans rely upon. Employers get a generous tax break for providing health coverage that Price would then extend to individuals. The 2009 version of his bill did this in a way that would actually have resulted in a huge tax increase.

But the bigger problem with Price’s plan to sever the employer-employee health insurance relationship and create plans that stay with an individual for life is that it would end up in cancelations of current plans — tens of millions of cancelations.

Republicans could argue that these new plans would be better than the existing plans for various reasons — but that’s an argument they know doesn’t work, because they crushed it when Democrats used it to defend the cancelations that happened after the implementation Obamacare.

Price says his plan would cover people with pre-existing conditions, though it doesn’t include an individual mandate or any incentive to prevent insurers from cherry-picking the healthiest consumers.

“In other words, this looks much like the reforms that collapsed in Texas, and in California,” Klein noted. ”Price isn’t learning from past policy mistakes, and so he means to repeat them.”

The biggest problem with Price’s bill is how it reforms existing public health care programs.

If H.R. 2300 became law, anyone could opt out of Medicare or Medicaid and receive a voucher to purchase private insurance.

We have no idea how many people would opt out of Medicare given the fact that few private insurers see people over 65 as the path to prosperity for their business. But when the growth of Medicare costs is far below that of private insurers, all that voucher would end up being is a ticket to pay far more for health care at the time of your life when it will cost you the most.

And if too many beneficiaries opted out, the entire system of dictating costs to providers in exchange for volume could collapse with devastating effects to our deficit and debt.

The worst part for Republicans is the facet of the law that allows Democrats to make a pretty simple case against the GOP’s Obamacare alternative: It ends Medicare as we know it. The GOP could rebut that assertion by saying that Medicare will still exist for those who want it, but a party that has been shedding senior support all year doesn’t want to have that argument.

Any alternative the GOP proposes to replace Obamacare is going to spark negative headlines — even if the GOP manages to evade the tax increases, cancelations and potential problems for Medicare that exist in Price’s bill.

If the Republican leadership makes the mistake of offering an alternative, they’ll dull the sting of their attacks on Obamacare by having to defend some version of a plan they were wise enough to sit on for years.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, December 16, 2013

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Health Reform, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gender Pay Gap Is Alive And Well”: Facts About the Health Insurance Compensation Gap

Unfortunately the gender pay gap is alive and well: Women in the United States earned 77 cents for every $1 earned by men in 2011—an average of $10,622 in lost wages every year. Yet that earnings ratio actually understates the extent of women’s disparate treatment in the workforce because they also experience a health insurance compensation gap. Below are the answers to some key questions about this gap, as well as how the Affordable Care Act—the new health reform law—works to close it.

Q: What is the health insurance compensation gap?

A: Women are less likely than men to receive health care coverage through their employer and are more likely to have higher out-of-pocket medical costs. This results in a health insurance compensation gap on top of the wage gap.

Q: What is the difference between men’s and women’s access to job-based coverage?

A: Women are significantly less likely than men to have access to their own employer-based coverage. Less than half of women (48 percent) are eligible to get health insurance through their jobs, compared with 57 percent of men, in part because women are more likely to work for small businesses and in low-wage jobs. Although two-thirds of women between the ages of 18 and 64 have employer-based insurance coverage, only 38 percent of women are enrolled in an insurance plan they receive through their own employer,1 while 24 percent receive employer-based coverage as a dependent on their spouse’s or partner’s plan. In contrast, 50 percent of men receive insurance coverage through their own employer, and only 13 percent of men receive dependent coverage.

Q: What is the financial impact of the compensation gap?

A: The gap in health insurance compensation translates into women losing an average of $4,508 for single coverage and $10,944 for family coverage in employer contributions to health benefits each year. Given that two-thirds of mothers are either primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families, the compensation gap is a significant burden on the budgets of many American families.

Q: Where do women turn when they don’t have access to job-based coverage?

A: When working women cannot obtain employer-based coverage and earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, they must turn to the individual health insurance market. Yet women often face discrimination in the individual market—they are charged more for coverage, denied coverage for gender-specific conditions, and sold plans that inadequately cover their health needs.

Q: How much more do women spend out of pocket on health care?

A: Even with employer-based coverage, women have higher out-of-pocket medical costs than men. Overall, women of reproductive age spend 68 percent more out of pocket than men on health care, in part because their reproductive health care needs require more frequent health care visits and are not always adequately covered by their insurance. Among women insured by employer-based plans, oral contraceptives alone account for one-third of their total out-of-pocket health care spending.

Q: How are women affected by the compensation gap?

A: The combination of being paid less than their male counterparts and having higher out-of-pocket medical expenses leaves many women struggling to pay their medical bills or trading off other necessities such as food, heat, and electricity to cover their medical costs. Fifty-two percent of women report delaying or going without needed care because of cost (not filling prescriptions or skipping tests, treatments, or follow-up visits), compared with 39 percent of men. Women also report higher rates of medical debt than their male counterparts. And one study showed that more than half of low-income women are underinsured, meaning they spend 10 percent or more of their income on out-of-pocket health care costs and premiums.

Q: How will the Affordable Care Act help reduce the health insurance compensation gap?

A: The Affordable Care Act institutes a series of reforms designed to drastically expand coverage and contain health insurance costs for all Americans. Many of the reforms enacted by the new health law have been and will continue to be especially beneficial for women, as they help resolve many of the problems outlined above. The health care bill:

  • Provides insurance premium assistance through income-based tax credits on a sliding scale beginning in 2014
  • Expands Medicaid eligibility to people with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level—about $31,809 for a family of four in 2011
  • Allows young people to remain on their parents’ health plans until the age of 26
  • Ends discrimination that has left women paying up to 150 percent more for the same coverage purely because of their gender
  • Bans insurance companies from denying coverage to women through pre-existing condition exclusions Ensures that women receive vital preventive care at no additional cost—significantly including contraceptive coverage, which will eliminate one of the primary sources of women’s out-of-pocket health care spending
  • Mandates that maternity benefits be covered as an essential part of women’s health care
  • Caps co-pays and deductibles, which will help reduce the amount women pay in out-of-pocket expenses

Through these reforms that level the playing field for women in the health care market, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce the compensation gap that exacerbates the disparity between men and women’s earnings.


BY: Jessica Arons and Lindsay Rosenthal, Center For American Progress, June 1, 2012

June 2, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Women | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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