Government Watch

Obamacare And Family Values: What Dean Baker Didn’t Tell You

from – Forbes – by Chris Conover

Dean Baker recently made a splash in the Huffington Post with his claim that Obamacare promotes family values because “parents get to stay home with children.”  Mr. Baker’s conclusion that Obamacare is “actually a big success” further underscores concerns that he has cherry-picked the data to arrive at his highly debatable conclusions.

Obamacare actually erodes family values in all sorts of ways, large and small. First, low-wage workers appear to be bearing the brunt of the reduction in work hours induced by this very misguided law.  Second, most families are paying more for their health coverage under Obamacare than they would have had the law never passed. Third, Obamacare creates perverse penalties against getting or staying married.  No one can seriously claim these adverse effects promote family values.  And a law that has broken virtually every major promise made for it hardly deserves to be called a “big success.”

Hard Truth #1: Low-Wage Workers Bearing the Brunt of Reduced Hours of Work

Workers in the bottom fifth of the earnings distribution are faring much worse than their counterparts in virtually every other quintile.  That is, compared to where they were prior to the recession, the percentage of such low-wage workers who hold full-time jobs is markedly lower, as is the average number of hours worked per week. Interestingly, researchers at the Heritage Foundation, Filip Jolevski and James Sherk reached these conclusions by analyzing the very same Current Population Survey data that Dean Baker and colleagues did is arriving at their rose-colored assessment of the ACA’s impacts. This simply underscores the extent to which one can reach very misleading conclusions by focusing on the wrong question or ignoring inconvenient counter-evidence.

In a recent guest post here at The Apothecary, Rep. Bill Cassidy and Chase Lindsey show persuasively that Obamacare is likely a factor fueling these dismal trends. And these adverse effects predictably will become accelerated if we are foolish enough to actually begin enforcing the employer mandate (something that even researchers at the left-of-Center Urban Institute think is a really bad idea).  According to University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan, Obamacare will help raise effective marginal tax rates by more than 10 percentage points. Reducing work hours among the lowest-paid workers surely cannot promote family values among them. Given the importance of “earned success” in contributing to happiness at all income levels (for anyone who doubts this, AEI president Arthur Brooks’ The Battle or The Road to Freedom are must reading), we do no service to low income children by having them see their parents work less rather than more.

Hard Truth #2: Families Are Paying More for Coverage Under Obamacare

In a county-level analysis of premiums on the ACA Exchanges published last fall, Forbes opinion editor Avik Roy and fellow blogger Yvgeniy Feymandemonstrated convincingly that under Obamacare, individual market premiums increased by 49 percent in 2014 as compared to 2013.  To be sure, there were some people who obtained Exchange coverage whose taxpayer-paid subsidies more than offset this increase in premiums, resulting in lower premiums than they otherwise would have paid. But the majority paid more, not less, for their health insurance as a consequence of Obamacare.

This pattern was repeated in the employer market. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that in the small group market, for example, roughly 11 million individuals would face higher premiums as a result of the ACA while only 6 million individuals would enjoy lower premiums.  Similarly, the National Journal (which no one would accuse of right-wing bias) concludedthat even after taking into account subsidies available on the exchanges, 66% of workers with single coverage and 57 percent of workers with family coverage would face higher premiums on the exchange compared to what they would pay for employer-sponsored coverage.

The logic of Mr. Baker’s argument is that by making coverage more affordable or accessible, Obamacare allows some workers to opt to work fewer hours, thereby freeing up time to be spent with children. Of course, by that same logic, if the average effect of Obamacare is to make coverage more expensive than it used to be, then the typical worker must have to work longer hours and hence have less time with their children than they would have had. How family friendly is that?

Hard Truth #3: Obamacare’s Marriage Penalties

As Heritage Foundation researcher Chris Jacobs hasdocumented, Obamacare contains two marriage penalties: one for low-income families and a different one for high-income families. For low-income families, subsidies are structured such that two 50-year-olds each making $35,000 a year are penalized more than $4,000 annually by staying married than if they were single. As Urban Institute researcher Gene Steuerle testifiedbefore Congress: “Not getting married is the major tax shelter for low- and moderate-income households with children. In many low-income communities around the nation, marriage is now the exception rather than the rule.”  To be sure, Obamacare is not the sole culprit behind the complex web of government-created incentives not to marry. But exacerbating that trend instead of reversing it surely does not contribute to family values. Even the New York Times concedes that for children with single parents, “a large body of research shows that they are more likely than similar children with married parents to experience childhood poverty, act up in class, become teenage parents and drop out of school.”[1]

Hard Truth #4: Obamacare is Not a “Big Success”

The claim that Obamacare is a “big success” rests on cherry-picked evidence. As noted earlier, Obamacare actually has failed in nearly every major promise made for it:

  • Instead of reducing the deficit, the law (fairly and accurately scored) will add$2 trillion in deficits over its first two decades.
  • Instead of annual premium savings of $2500 per family, the law in fact is increasing premiums for a majority of Americans in both non-group and employer-based health insurance markets.
  • Instead of no new taxes on the middle class, at least 70% of the $1 trillion in taxes imposed by Obamacare will come in the form of taxes affecting families at all income levels.

And even Obamacare’s vaunted impact on coverage is subject to challenge. Progressives highlight the recent findings from an official government survey purporting to show a 3.8 million reduction in the number of uninsured in the first quarter of 2014. But they don’t tell you about a much larger, more accurate survey that show a 1.3 million increase in the number of uninsured during the same period. In their efforts to arm-twist state policymakers into adopting the Medicaid expansion, they will point to a new government report projecting a $5.7 billion savings in hospital uncompensated care this year. But they will gloss over an inspector general’s report showing that Medicaid patients often find that they must wait for months or travel long distances to see a doctor. In short, Obamacare may be expanding access to coverage without doing much about actually improving access to care.

I hate to be cynical, but a skeptic might observe that precisely because Obamacare has failed to achieve virtually every major promise made for it, advocates have turned to finding silver linings among effects never promised. I myself don’t recall anyone who pushed for health reform on grounds it would allow more parents to spend time with their kids. Instead of glossing over this law’s very serious flaws and shortcomings, progressives might do us all a favor by working with Republicans to find a path to replace this lemon law with something that actually is family-friendly.


[1] It is doubly ironic that conclusion was penned by reporter Jason DeParle, as he is married to Nancy-Ann DeParle, one of the key officials tasked with implementing Obamacare in its first few years.

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8 years ago

Family values? … Since when is euphanising Grandma and Grandpa at age 76 under Obamacare considered a family value? Oh, wait a minute, the Socialists would benefit from getting rid of seniors who might refute the “benefits of Socialism” to their grandchildren … Can’t have that, Grandma and Grandpa have got to go and the sooner, the better!

But, of course, registered Democrats will probably be exempted by executive order!

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