Good News: Obamacare Clearly Isn’t Stifling the Economy

Part-Time Employment Before and After ACA

The latest GDP numbers are bad news for Obamacare critics.

You’d think that everyone would be happy when the Commerce Department announced that our economy grew by a whopping 4.1 percent in the third quarter of this year. But according to the naysayers, that wasn’t supposed to happen.

One of their biggest complaints against Obamacare was that it would stifle the economy. Penalties and fines would raise the cost of doing business. High premiums would impoverish middle-class families. Forcing businesses to offer health insurance to full-time employees would make them switch to part-time employees — or stop hiring altogether.

And yet, the more of the law that’s implemented, the better the economy seems to perform. How can that be?

Well, for one thing, the cost of Obamacare has been greatly exaggerated. The law states that companies with more than 50 workers must offer health insurance to their full-time employees or pay a fine of $2,000 per employee. That may sound like a lot, but it’s a heck of a lot less than most companies are already paying for health insurance, which costs an average of $15,073 per worker.

“You’ve got 5.7 million firms in the U.S.,” says health economist Mark Duggan. “Only 210,000 have more than 50 employees. So 96 percent of firms aren’t affected. Then if you look among those firms with 50 or more employees, something on the order of 95 percent offer health insurance.”

When you add it all up, the “employer mandate” probably affects less than 1 percent of the workforce. Definitely not enough to make a dent in the economy.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is no evidence that Obamacare is turning us into a “part-time” economy. Since President Obama signed the law, the economy has added millions of full-time jobs, while part-time jobs have actually declined. A lower percentage of workers are part-time than they were under President Reagan in the 1980s. Over the past year, there has been a significant decline in the number of people working part-time “for involuntary economic reasons.” And when you look at the part-time definition of “less than 30 hours per week,” the number of workers who fall just below that cutoff has been growing slower than the number of workers just above it.

And it makes even less sense to argue that the employer mandate would cause employers to drop coverage. If they’re offering coverage, it’s because their employees want it, and they want to attract and retain good employees. They’re not going to stop just because the penalty costs less than the insurance. If they wanted to drop coverage, they could have done it before Obamacare, when there wasn’t a penalty at all. In fact, in the years after Massachusetts enacted an employer mandate, their employer-based insurance coverage actually increased while the rest of the nation’s decreased.

What’s more, those small businesses that do offer coverage will receive a sizeable tax credit. For the small businesses that already offer coverage, this is a huge windfall. For the ones that don’t, the tax credit may make it profitable for them to do so. And since they fall under the 50-employee cutoff, they won’t be penalized if they don’t offer coverage.

The only remaining question mark is exactly how the employer mandate will affect insurance premiums. Since it doesn’t go into effect until the beginning of 2015, we’ll have to wait until the end of 2014 to find out. Just like this year’s fiasco, there will probably be a lot of complaints about dropped coverage and raised rates, and then those complaints will fade away as people realize that most of them can get better coverage and, on average, rates are going down.

And, as an added bonus, those Americans who do lose their employer-based coverage now have the comfort of knowing that they won’t be denied coverage or charged discriminatory rates on the individual market, thanks to the individual mandate and the online marketplace that are now in place. They will get affordable insurance, and they will live healthier lives, and they will continue to contribute to the rising productivity that is making our economy grow so fast.


This op-ed was published in the Huffington Post, and a slightly edited version was published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.