THE AFFORDABLE Care Act (ACA) was oversold. A brief glance at the Congressional Budget Office’s latest analysis, which is all many observers seem to be giving it, reveals that. But a fair look at what the nonpartisan experts released this week also shows that the law still has a good shot at accomplishing what it was primarily designed to do, and it’s not going to force employers to fire millions of workers in the process. In other words, Obamacare isn’t failing.
Any big reform to the United States’ underperforming health-care system was going to come with trade-offs. Lawmakers decided to help low- and middle-income Americans buy decent, private health coverage in better-regulated insurance marketplaces. One trade-off: Defining what sort of coverage is good enough meant that not everyone could keep his or her old plan, as President Obama had promised, and a few might have to pay more. Another effect, the CBO notes, is that the law will discourage some people from working as much as they would have otherwise.
That jobs picture isn’t as dire as the law’s critics make it seem. Millions of people are not going to get pink slips; employers will still demand about as much labor. The CBO reckons that the law will reduce the amount of labor Americans choose to do by the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time workers by 2024. Workers might trim their hours or stop working because they won’t have to work as hard to afford health coverage, because the health-insurance subsidies they are due to get would shrink otherwise, or both. This will slow the economy over the next decade, but not by much.
The primary purpose of the law is to expand access to quality health-care coverage, particularly to the uninsured, and the CBO sees no reason to think that it won’t work. The analysis concludes that the botched HealthCare.gov rollout will result in a million fewer people signing up this year. But, the CBO finds, “enrollment in exchanges will rise sharply in the next few years — reaching 22 million by 2016 — as people become more familiar with the new insurance options and subsidies.”
“Starting in 2017,” the report states, “between 24 million and 25 million people are expected to obtain coverage each year through the exchanges, and roughly 80 percent of those enrollees are expected to receive subsidies for purchasing that insurance.” Those estimates are the same as they were last May, before the rollout — and the bad press — began in earnest in October.
These are still early days. All of us — including the CBO — will know more about the law’s future once numbers come in later this year. But Congress’s referee doesn’t see evidence to suggest that the policy is fundamentally off-track.