Editorial: Upbeat report on Obamacare

A computer is ready to be used to help people purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act at a kiosk setup at the Mall of Americas in Miami.
A computer is ready to be used to help people purchase insurance under the Affordable Care Act at a kiosk setup at the Mall of Americas in Miami.
Published Feb. 5, 2014

The usual critics of President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act are citing a new Congressional Budget Office report to bolster their unfounded claims that the law is a job-killer. The nonpartisan budget office doesn't say that at all. What its report says is that the availability of health care coverage means more workers who feel trapped in their jobs just to keep their insurance can now choose to leave or reduce their hours. That personal independence and increased flexibility in the workplace is a good thing for Americans seeking work and for employers who want to reorganize and re-energize their staffs.

Republicans from House Speaker John Boehner to Pinellas congressional candidate David Jolly are mischaracterizing the CBO report to claim the health care law is costing jobs and hurting the economy. As usual, the Obama administration and other Democrats are on the defensive and ineffective in explaining the nuances of the report. In fact, the report says the number of full-time equivalent workers will decline by 2.5 million by 2024 "almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in business' demand for labor.'' The law will not increase unemployment (the number of people looking for work who can't find a job) or underemployment (workers who have jobs but want more hours). The bottom line: There will be fewer workers, not fewer jobs, and more jobs for those who want to work.

While conservatives spread fear and misinformation, the CBO report offers a much more optimistic assessment of health care reform as it continues to unfold:

• The overall cost of the Affordable Care Act to the federal government over the next decade is a bit less than earlier projections.

• The law still is expected to help reduce the federal deficit over the next decade.

• The projection that 6 million Americans will get insurance through the exchanges in the first year is 1 million less than earlier estimates because of the federal website mess. The estimate that 8 million will be covered by Medicaid expansion also is 1 million less than previously expected. But that is still 14 million previously uninsured Americans who will have health coverage, and the report suggests enrollment on the federal exchange will speed up and still could hit the original 7 million projection.

• The claims by Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republicans that the law is a "bailout" for private insurers as it seeks to reduce risk and balance costs from medical claims are off base. In fact, the federal government will take in twice as much from insurers as it pays out in the "risk corridor" program over the next decade.

• Overall, the law is expected to help the economy by increasing the demand for goods and services. Lower-income families who will have health coverage through the Medicaid expansion or use federal subsidies to buy more affordable coverage on the exchanges will have more money to spend.

The Affordable Care Act has its shortcomings, and the Obama administration deserves criticism for being poorly prepared to start the insurance exchanges and being forced to delay some other provisions. But the Republican sound bites and news releases claiming the law is killing jobs and wrecking the economy are not backed up by the facts. The CBO's more sophisticated, objective analysis is far more encouraging, and Democrats should embrace it rather than run from it.