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“Surprise, Surprise”: The Real Numbers On ‘The Obamacare Effect’ Are In, Now Let The Crow Eating Begin

After years of negative speculation on the part of the opponents of Obamacare, hard data is finally coming in with respect to the anticipated negative side-effects of the law.

The results are guaranteed to both surprise and depress those who have built their narrative around the effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act.

Let’s begin with the meme threatening that healthcare reform will lead to a serious decline in full-time employment as employers reduce workforce hours to below 30 per week in the effort to avoid their responsibility to provide health benefits to their employees.

It turns out that there has, in fact, been no such rush to reduce work hours. Indeed, numbers released last week reveal that precisely the opposite is taking place.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of part-time workers in the United States has fallen by 300,000 since March of 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was passed into law. What’s more, in the past year alone—the time period in which the nation was approaching the start date for Obamacare—full-time employment grew by over 2 million while part-time employment declined by 230,000.

And it gets even more interesting.

Despite the cries of anguish over the coming destruction of private sector work opportunities at the hands of Obamacare, it turns out that the only significant ‘cutter’ of work hours turns out to be in the public sector where cops, teachers, prison guards and the like are experiencing cuts in work time as cities, states and universities seek to avoid the obligations of the health reform law.

Correct me if I am wrong, but is it not the very same folks who strenuously oppose Obamacare who are constantly screaming for smaller government? Are these not the same people who have, for as many years as I can recall, been carping about swollen government payrolls?

But the false narrative that has been peddled to make us believe that the private sector can’t wait to lower our hours of employment turns out not to be the only false note being played by anti-Obamacare forces.

For months now, we have been pounded with the story of the millions of Americans who have lost their non-group, individual health insurance policy due to cancellations forced by Obamacare.

Yet, a new study just out by Lisa Clemons-Cope and Nathaniel Anderson of the Urban Institute tells a very different story.

How many times have readers, along with television and radio audiences, read or heard me point out that few ever expected to hang onto their individual insurance policy for longer than a year or two following date of purchase? Long before there was Obamacare, it was always clear that when someone purchased an individual health instance policy, it was pretty much a given that they would either be moving on to an employer provided group plan when they get a job or that their policy would respond to the ordinary, pre-Obamacare changes that occurred from year to year and result in the consumer having to purchasing a new plan after a short period of time.

Indeed, it was this very reality that made it clear to those who follow the health insurance industry that Obama’s “If you like your policy you can keep your policy” proclamation was a near impossibility for those participating in the individual marketplace. This simply wasn’t the way the individual market worked.

The Urban Institute study bears this out, noting that “the non-group market has historically been highly volatile, with just 17 percent retaining coverage for more than two years.”

While Obamacare foes have been quick to jump on this statistic when it comes to condemning the President for uttering his promise that you could keep your insurance if you are happy with your policy, the same people have somehow managed to miss the reality that a huge percentage of those who received cancellation notices last year were going to get that notice even if the Affordable Care Act had never existed.

But that is not all that critics have been missing as they’ve sought to exploit the supposed high number of cancellations they claim are due to Obamacare.

To find out just how many people have really been put into an insurance fix, the Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey, in December of 2013, asked people between the ages of 18 and 64 the following question:

“Did you receive a notice in the past few months from a health insurance company saying that your policy is cancelled or will no longer be offered at the end of 2013?”

The following bar published in Health Affairs provides the results—

Clemons-Cope_Figure12

Note that the number of people who saw their policy cancelled because it did not meet the Obamacare minimum requirements was 18.6 percent—dangerously close to the 17 percent of individual policyholders who were losing their individual market policies pre-Obamacare.

Also note that the 18.6 percent equates to roughly 2.6 million people whose plans were cancelled as a result of Obamacare—a number well below the estimates of 5 million or considerably more being tossed about by Obamacare opposition.

So, what happens to these folks who saw their health insurance policy cancelled?

According to the Urban Institute researchers :

“While our sample size of those with non-group health insurance who report that their plan was cancelled due to ACA compliance is small (N=123), we estimate that over half of this population is likely to be eligible for coverage assistance, mostly through Marketplace subsidies. Consistent with these findings, other work by Urban Institute researchers estimated that slightly more than half of adults with pre-reform, nongroup coverage would be eligible for Marketplace subsidies or Medicaid.”

So what does this data tell us?

As a result of at least half of those cancelled being able to either enroll in a Medicaid program or receive subsidies on the healthcare exchanges, many—if not most—will now find health care coverage at a price lower than previously paid while greatly improving the quality of coverage.

Still, roughly one million people will have to replace their cancelled policy with something that may cost them more. This is not a good thing but it is far, far less dramatic than what we’ve been hearing. It is also a part of the expected upheaval that has always—and will always—result from the passage of reforms designed to benefit the greatest number of people. Traditionally, those who are disadvantaged in this way find that things are sorted out in amendments to the initial legislation, amendments that can only result when Republicans in Congress stop playing politics and begin the serious work of making the law better for Americans.

There is another problem noted in the study—

Because of the amount of focus placed on scaring the you-know-what out of people when it comes to the alleged dire effects of Obamacare rather than educating them, people remain in the dark as to what is available on the exchanges or via the state Medicaid programs.

Per the Urban Institute study—

“Yet making the best enrollment choice may be difficult for consumers. HRMS findings show that many people are not aware of the new state Marketplaces, few know whether their state is expanding Medicaid, and many lack the confidence to enroll, make choices, and pay their premiums.”

Once again, politics trumps policy and the critical needs of those our elected officials are sworn to serve.

I highly encourage everyone—whether friend or foe of healthcare reform—to take a look at the study cited above and the BLS statistics. While most all would agree that there are some repairs that need to be made to the Affordable Care Act, workable fixes designed to benefit the public and improve American healthcare cannot happen so long as politicians, pundits and special interests are devoted to lying about what Obamacare means and what it does not mean to the American public.

Facts matter—even when they screw up an effective disinformation campaign.

UPDATE: Monday, 12:15pm EST:

The news just keeps on coming.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is out this morning and reveals that 15.9 percent of American adults are now uninsured, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months of 2013 and has shown improvements in every major demographic group with the exception of Hispanics who did not advance.

That translates roughly to 3 million to 4 million people getting coverage who did not have it before.

According to Gallup, the number of Americans who still do not have health insurance coverage is on track to reach the lowest quarterly number since 2008.

This is one statistic that is going to be tough for Obamacare critics to overcome.

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, March 10, 2014

March 11, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“A Steady Stream Of Untruths”: Everything You’ve Heard About Obamacare Being A Job-Killer Is Wrong

The U.S. government is now “shut down” thanks in large part to yet another attempt to put the brakes on the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. Yet this week, the law’s health care exchanges went on line, promising affordable insurance coverage for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions or jobs that did not previously offer a health plan and to millions of the unemployed.  Nevertheless, a steady stream of untruths about the law continues to pop up in newspapers, blogs and Facebook feeds.

One of these tropes is that the ACA is causing employers to cut back on hours for full-time employees so that they will not have to provide coverage (under the ACA, companies with more than 49 employees are required to offer health insurance coverage to those employees working 30 or more hours a week or face penalties). Typically, the evidence for the cutbacks in hours is that someone knows someone else whose hours were cut earlier this year in anticipation of the law taking effect. Many pundits have been even lazier, just stating that employers are cutting back hours without citing concrete examples.

The reality, though, is that there is no widespread trend of employers cutting their workers back to just under 30 hours because of the ACA. In July, my colleagues Dean Baker and Helene Jorgensen analyzed recent data from the Current Population Survey. They found that only 0.64 percent of the workforce was working between 26 and 29 hours a week in the first half of 2013. This number is only slightly higher than it was for the first half of 2012 (0.61 percent).

In other words, there is no evidence of a widespread trend of employers reducing hours to avoid providing coverage. That sentiment was recently echoed by Moody’s Mark Zandi, who said of the supposed trend, “I was expecting to see it. I was looking for it and it’s not there.”

The basic story is that, yes, there are a small number of firms that have cut down on the number of full-time employees recently. And yes, over time, the 30-hour cutoff could have some effect on hours as employers adjust to the law and new businesses open. Of course, some companies may go the opposite route and move part-time workers to full time, as was recently the case at Disney World.

Regardless, the promulgation of the idea that the ACA will transform the U.S. workforce into a part-time workforce and negatively impact employment in the United States is dead wrong.

 

By: Alan Barber, U. S. News and World Report, October 4, 2013

October 6, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Jobs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Truth About Jobs”: The Good News That The Deranged Right Just Can’t Handle

If anyone had doubts about the madness that has spread through a large part of the American political spectrum, the reaction to Friday’s better-than expected report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should have settled the issue. For the immediate response of many on the right — and we’re not just talking fringe figures — was to cry conspiracy.

Leading the charge of what were quickly dubbed the “B.L.S. truthers” was none other than Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, who posted an assertion on Twitter that the books had been cooked to help President Obama’s re-election campaign. His claim was quickly picked up by right-wing pundits and media personalities.

It was nonsense, of course. Job numbers are prepared by professional civil servants, at an agency that currently has no political appointees. But then maybe Mr. Welch — under whose leadership G.E. reported remarkably smooth earnings growth, with none of the short-term fluctuations you might have expected (fluctuations that reappeared under his successor) — doesn’t know how hard it would be to cook the jobs data.

Furthermore, the methods the bureau uses are public — and anyone familiar with the data understands that they are “noisy,” that especially good (or bad) months will be reported now and then as a simple consequence of statistical randomness. And that in turn means that you shouldn’t put much weight on any one month’s report.

In that case, however, what is the somewhat longer-term trend? Is the U.S. employment picture getting better? Yes, it is.

Some background: the monthly employment report is based on two surveys. One asks a random sample of employers how many people are on their payroll. The other asks a random sample of households whether their members are working or looking for work. And if you look at the trend over the past year or so, both surveys suggest a labor market that is gradually on the mend, with job creation consistently exceeding growth in the working-age population.

On the employer side, the current numbers say that over the past year the economy added 150,000 jobs a month, and revisions will probably push that number up significantly. That’s well above the 90,000 or so added jobs per month that we need to keep up with population. (This number used to be higher, but underlying work force growth has dropped off sharply now that many baby boomers are reaching retirement age.)

Meanwhile, the household survey produces estimates of both the number of Americans employed and the number unemployed, defined as people who are seeking work but don’t currently have a job. The eye-popping number from Friday’s report was a sudden drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, but as I said, you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on one month’s number. The more important point is that unemployment has been on a sustained downward trend.

But isn’t that just because people have given up looking for work, and hence no longer count as unemployed? Actually, no. It’s true that the employment-population ratio — the percentage of adults with jobs — has been more or less flat for the past year. But remember those aging baby boomers: the fraction of American adults who are in their prime working years is falling fast. Once you take the effects of an aging population into account, the numbers show a substantial improvement in the employment picture since the summer of 2011.

None of this should be taken to imply that the situation is good, or to deny that we should be doing better — a shortfall largely due to the scorched-earth tactics of Republicans, who have blocked any and all efforts to accelerate the pace of recovery. (If the American Jobs Act, proposed by the Obama administration last year, had been passed, the unemployment rate would probably be below 7 percent.) The U.S. economy is still far short of where it should be, and the job market has a long way to go before it makes up the ground lost in the Great Recession. But the employment data do suggest an economy that is slowly healing, an economy in which declining consumer debt burdens and a housing revival have finally put us on the road back to full employment.

And that’s the truth that the right can’t handle. The furor over Friday’s report revealed a political movement that is rooting for American failure, so obsessed with taking down Mr. Obama that good news for the nation’s long-suffering workers drives its members into a blind rage. It also revealed a movement that lives in an intellectual bubble, dealing with uncomfortable reality — whether that reality involves polls or economic data — not just by denying the facts, but by spinning wild conspiracy theories.

It is, quite simply, frightening to think that a movement this deranged wields so much political power.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 8, 2012

October 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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