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  1. Florida Politics

Rubio cites flawed data on Obamacare

Sen. Marco Rubio says Obamacare’s employer mandate will hurt small businesses.
Sen. Marco Rubio says Obamacare’s employer mandate will hurt small businesses.
Published Jul. 31, 2013

Sen. Marco Rubio says it's not too late to stop Obamacare.

In fact, he says, Congress should refuse to pass a spending bill that funds it, even at the risk of shutting down government. That's because he sees "mounting evidence of how Obamacare creates more problems than it solves, particularly for small business owners and the people who work for them."

One of those pieces of evidence: the number of small businesses who "say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours."

According to his FoxNews.com op-ed on July 25, that number is a jaw-dropping 75 percent.

Rubio blames the health care law's now-delayed employer mandate, which requires businesses with the equivalent of 50 or more full-time employees to offer affordable, comprehensive health coverage or potentially face penalties of $2,000 or more per full-time worker after the first 30.

That creates a disastrous disincentive, he argues:

"If you are a small business with about 47, 48 or 49 employees and you want to hire more people, Obamacare encourages you to hold back on hiring new workers or cut the hours of existing ones so that you don't reach 50 employees. That is why 75 percent of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours."

Do 3 in 4 U.S. small businesses say the health care law will drive them to fire workers or cut their hours?

Rubio's office provided us with a July 16 Washington Examiner article which credited the number to "a sobering survey released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce."

We read the study and reached out to the chamber. And there's a problem with that "three-quarters of small businesses" claim. A series of problems, actually.

The study was conducted among a national sample of 1,300 executives for small businesses, defined as fewer than 500 employees and with annual revenue less than $25 million. It included chamber members and non-members "weighted to be representative of the small business population."

But it turns out the question the Washington Examiner and Rubio cited wasn't asked of the entire group — something not clear in the published results.

The chamber told us executives were first asked whether the employer mandate would affect them.

Just 17 percent of the small business executives said yes. So less than 1 in 5 businesses that participated in the survey said that the employer mandate would even affect them.

Those 17 percent were then asked how they planned to respond. They could select as many answers as they felt applied to them:

a. Reduce hiring to avoid surpassing the 50 full-time equivalent employees (24 percent)

b. Cut back hours to reduce the number of full-time employees (27 percent)

c. Stop providing employee health insurance

d. Replace full-time employees with part-time workers (23 percent)

e. None of the above

The chamber published responses for answers A, B and D — the responses cited by the Washington Examiner and Rubio. It has not provided responses for answers C and E.

So, the only way to reach 75 percent is to not only ignore the majority of executives who didn't answer the question, but also to fold those who said they would "reduce hiring" with those who planned to cut hours or replace workers.

And we don't know how many employers said, "None of the above." It's also not clear from published results exactly what percentage of affected businesses said they would cut hours or replace workers.

It could be as high as 50 percent, assuming there was no overlap between the executives who said they planned to replace full-timers with part-timers and those who said they would cut back hours. It could be as low as 27 percent, assuming total overlap — that the same people who said they would replace full-timers with part-timers also said they intended to cut back hours.

So, of all small businesses in the study, how many said they would cut back hours or replace full-time workers in response to the health care law?

Just 5 percent to 9 percent.

And that's in line with other evidence. Most companies have 10 employees or fewer — far from the 50-employee threshold. Meanwhile, of companies with 25 to 49 people, 87 percent already offer benefits, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's annual employer survey.

Of those with 50 to 199 employees — the smallest businesses subject to penalties in 2015 for not offering insurance — 94 percent already offer benefits.

Rubio, arguing to defund Obamacare, said "75 percent of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours." That's not remotely true. In the study of small businesses he cited, less than 10 percent said they might make that choice.

We rate this Pants on Fire.

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