The impact of ObamaCare on doctors and patients, companies inside and outside the health sector, and American workers and taxpayers

Last month, majorities in Congress voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, President Obama vetoed the repeal bill, and the Republican Congress was unable to override the president’s veto.

As former leaders in Congress, we have a message for both sides in this debate: It’s time to give the states a chance.

This doesn’t mean that conservatives and Republicans have to give up the fight to reduce the regulations and taxes in the law. It also doesn’t mean that progressives and Democrats have to stop defending protections for the underinsured and uninsured.

Instead, it’s time to look to a provision of the Affordable Care Act — Section 1332 — that can achieve what both sides earnestly wish for: providing more Americans with access to more affordable, flexible, patient-centered health care.

As more requirements of the health care law take effect, income tax filing season becomes more complex for small businesses.

Companies required to offer health insurance have new forms to complete providing details of their coverage. Owners whose payrolls have hovered around the threshold where insurance is mandatory need to be sure their coverage — if they offered it last year — was sufficient to avoid penalties.

Even the most tax-savvy owners may find that do-it-yourself doesn’t work when it comes to fulfilling the law’s requirements. Many don’t know about the intricacies of the new health care regulations associated with the law that affect employers, says Lydia Glatz, an accountant with the firm MBAF in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“Most small businesses and mom-and-pop operations,” Glatz says. “They’re more involved in running their day-to-day business.”

N.C. Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin this week became the latest public official to warn of the harms wreaked by the Affordable Care Act, saying the federal insurance law has destabilized the state’s insurance market and now threatens to leave some residents without options for health insurance.

Goodwin expressed his concerns in a letter sent Tuesday to Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as a follow-up to a personal conversation he had with the Obama administration official in November. Goodwin, a Democrat up for re-election this year, warned that the ACA is driving up insurance costs, reducing consumer options and generating unsustainable financial losses for the insurers, with the potential risk that insurers will withdraw from the state altogether.

Two studies published in the most recent Health Affairs journal raise questions about the contention that the Affordable Care Act will reduce employment, wages, and hours worked by employees.

The study by Gooptu and colleagues examined the effects of the law’s Medicaid expansion on employment and found no statistically significant effect through March 2015. A related study by Moriya and colleagues examined the subsidy structure provided to households getting health insurance through the ACA’s exchanges and similarly found no discernible effect on levels of part-time employment for employees eligible for these subsidies.

These studies provide useful new information, but they do not mean, as some reporting on them seems to suggest, that there is nothing to worry about with respect to the ACA’s effects on labor markets. Given the structure of the ACA, it would be hard to conclude the law would not eventually reduce hours worked or total compensation, although the magnitude of the resulting changes may be hard to detect in the U.S.’s large and complex labor markets.

Most standard questions aimed at presidential candidates in recent years have sought affirmation or denial of standard propositions. For example: Do you favor repealing or extending ObamaCare? Would you ensure near-universal insurance coverage? Do we need more federal regulation or greater state-level discretion?

That or they try to generate advance signals about near-term tactics. For example: Should we increase or trim taxpayer subsidies? How much should price variation be limited or curtailed? Are coverage and care goals better achieved through regulatory mandates or market-like incentives?

However, this is getting well-worn and generic, if not a little hackneyed, for these questions tend to obscure more basic dividing lines between candidates, and how candidates are likely to think about health policy and frame any plans for future changes. Of course, our vast accumulation of laws, regulations, institutions, entrenched interests, vulnerabilities, and evidence-free assumptions constrain any sort of “blank sheet of paper” rethinking in this sphere of politics. But we might better predict how candidates will proceed if we ask them the following five questions

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released its latest Budget and Economic Outlook. In this report, CBO notes that the deficit in 2016 is expected to be $544 billion and federal outlays will rise by 6 percent, to $3.9 trillion, compared with 2015. Mandatory spending—such as that for entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—will rise $168 billion this year. Federal spending on major health care programs will account for the largest portion of this rise as federal outlays for Medicare, Medicaid, exchange subsidies, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) will increase $104 billion (11 percent) in 2016.

A reason that might explain why fast-food employees aren’t getting more hours: ObamaCare.

Starting Jan. 1, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees must offer health insurance to all full-time staff or pay a hefty fine. Employers with 100 or more workers had to start offering coverage last year. But smaller businesses that operate on lower margins, especially restaurants, complained loudly about the cost.

And some fast-food franchise owners figured out a way to avoid paying for coverage: Just make as many workers as possible part time. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey found nearly 60% of small franchise businesses said they would make personnel changes like this.

“The ones that did it successfully did it three or four years ago,” says Kaya Bromley, an attorney who helps employers comply with the Affordable Care Act. But, Bromley said, some of the restaurant owners who cut hours to sidestep the health law now regret it.

“A lot of the fast-food franchisees that did this,” she said, “are now coming back and saying, ‘It was a great idea for reducing the number of people that I have to offer benefits, but now I can’t run my restaurants.’”

So, to sum up: Trump has offered scant details about how he would replace ObamaCare. But what little he has said is philisophically consistent with the arguments in favor of single-payer, a policy approach that he has praised in the past.

The whole irony of this is that right now, Sanders and Hillary Clinton are in the midst of a heated debate in which Sanders is arguing in favor of single-payer and Clinton is saying it would go too far to be politically feasible.

Should Clinton and Trump be the nominees, it will have meant that Democratic voters will have rejected the candidate pushing single-payer health care and Republicans will have embraced him.

Today the Mercatus Center unveiled a study by Bradley Herring (Johns Hopkins University) and Erin Trish (University of Southern California) finding that the much-discussed health spending slowdown that continued in 2010-13 “can likely be explained by longstanding patterns” over more than two decades, rather than suggesting a recent policy correction. Projecting these factors forward and incorporating the effects of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance coverage expansion provisions, Herring-Trish predict the expansion will produce a “likely increase in health care spending.”

Though not surprising in light of longstanding appreciation of insurance’s effects on health service utilization, the latter finding is nevertheless profoundly concerning given that pre-ACA health spending growth trends were already widely held to be untenable.

KEY FINDINGS

  • At least 70% of the recent slowdown in health care spending per capita—and possibly as much as 98%—can likely be explained by long-standing patterns known to affect health care spending trends, not by new, unexplained conditions in the medical sector.
  • Breaking down those figures, roughly 41% of the slowdown probably resulted from the decline in real per capita income because of the Great Recession.
  • Other factors known to affect health care spending growth—such as changes in the number of physicians and hospital beds per capita and in the percentage of the population with insurance coverage—account for somewhere between 32% and 57% of the slower health care spending growth.
  • The projected expansion of Medicaid coverage owing to the ACA will likely raise national health care spending in 2019 to about 1% higher than it would have been without the expansion.