Parker: Waiting for Obamacare
WASHINGTON -- News consumers by now have absorbed the message that Republicans are going to defund Obamacare, shut down the government, ruin the economy and starve the poor.
This is what Democrats would have you believe and, given the GOP’s recent obstructionist history, it would not be a stretch. However, there is an alternative scenario that bears fair consideration.
Not defund, as the House voted to do Friday, but delay.
Democrats and President Obama see delay as just another maneuver to upend Obamacare. “Extortion” is the word Obama recently used. But let’s step back a moment and examine some of the reasoning. Sometimes even partisans are right.
Topping the list is the fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is becoming increasingly unpopular. Only 39 percent of Americans currently favor the health care program, compared to 51 percent in January, according to a recent CNN/ORC International poll.
Some of the reasons:
-- Many companies are cutting worker hours to below the threshold (30 hours) requiring them to comply with Obamacare. (SeaWorld is cutting hours for thousands of workers.)
-- Others are cutting workers completely to avoid compliance or to reduce costs associated with the expanded coverage. (The Cleveland Clinic cited Obamacare as one reason for offering early retirement to 3,000 workers and hinting at future layoffs.)
-- Many young people, unemployed or earning little, will have trouble paying premiums once open enrollment for health insurance exchanges begins Oct. 1. Even discounts won’t be enough for some, who then will face fines or have to turn to parents who face their own insurance challenges. List-price premiums for a 40-year-old buying a mid-range plan will average close to $330 per month, according to a recent Avalere Health study. For someone who is 60, premiums will run about $615 a month. Forget retirement.
One of the most popular aspects of Obamacare has been that children can remain on their parents’ policies until they’re 26, but there’s nothing magical about 27 if you don’t have a job, are still in school or are otherwise dependent. Expect many under-30s to decline to buy insurance, whereupon America’s youth will be under the thumb of the IRS. Remember, the Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate to purchase insurance is a tax.
The other most-popular item was the requirement that pre-existing conditions not preclude insurance coverage. Under a proposed alternative plan unveiled recently by the Republican Study Committee—the American Health Care Reform Act (H.R. 3121)—this provision would be protected and funded through state-based, high-risk pools and other reform measures.
The biggest concern across all demographics is the likely effect on the larger economy. What happens when so many people lose hours and work and, therefore, income?
Moreover, the law is being applied unfairly and unequally, with exemptions and delays offered to special groups and the brunt of the strain falling directly on middle-class Americans.
Larger employers, for example, have been given a one-year reprieve on fines for leaving workers uncovered. No such grace for individual citizens. The incentives to cut employees and hours prompted three powerful former supporters to write a strong letter of dissent to Democratic leaders. The letter writers, saying the ACA would destroy the backbone of the American middle class and “the very health and well-being of our members along with millions of other hardworking Americans,” also lamented the falsehood that employees could keep the insurance they like. This is obviously not true despite Obama’s repeated assurances to the contrary.
The authors were all union leaders, including James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Finally, in a tweak not likely to inspire admiration, the president is offering Congress a break other Americans won’t get. Obamacare requires congressional leaders and staff to enter the exchanges like everyone else, but Obama has offered a special dispensation to soften the blow. Their employer—you—will pay part of the premium, a compensatory option not offered to nonfederal employers and their befuddled, underemployed staffs.
Delay may feel like one more Republican strategy, but that doesn’t necessarily make it unwise. If we can delay sending cruise missiles to Syria pending a better solution, perhaps there’s some sense to delaying a health care overhaul that creates unacceptable collateral damage to citizens and that is not quite ready for public consumption.
In the long run, delay might benefit Obama, especially if it averts a revolt once citizens fully absorb the expensive realities of Obamacare and promises not kept. He has already demonstrated that he is comfortable with waiting when risks are disproportionate to theoretical gains.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.