Sunday, July 7, 2013

Keeping Employer Mandate - A Losing Battle

The Employer Mandate – A Losing Battle for Democrats and Obama
Don’t fight losing battles.
Common Expression, said to be of Jewish origin
In his column in today’s New York Times,  Ross Douthat, argues liberal and conservative politicians have agreed the employer mandate requiring employers with over 50 workers have to insure them has to go, and everybody knows it. In “ A Hidden Consensus on Health Care, “ he says, “Employer-provided coverage is an unsustainable relic, a source of perverse incentives for the health care market and an obstacle to more efficient, affordable, and universal coverage.”
Keeping the mandate  would have been a losing battle. The move to remove it may be why the Obama administration put the mandate quietly to bed just before the long Independence Day weekend.  It may be why Democratic voices are muted in defending Obamacare.   Conservative attacked  the mandate as deterring  hiring, reducing work hours, and serving as the  root cause of impending “sticker shock,”  These attacks were effective and alarmed Democrats preparing for the 2014 midtwerms.
Politicians don’t want to be seen as disrupting how most Americans get their care – through their employer.  Thus the mandate, which was causing some employers to drop coverage and drop work hours from 40 to 29 hours had to go. The mandate was hurting Obama politically among the young and healthy, and he had to have them to implement the exchanges.
Douthat maintains that  both sides agreed, through a “hidden consensus” was a god idea.  An even better idea, he says, would be  to rid ourselves of it completely and turn the whole issue of getting  care to the exchanges.  
 Mr. Doutthat, but I doubt that.  In the first place, there is no assurance the exchanges will work or eventually succeed or even be in place. 
Besides,  many employers think providing coverage with the job is an incentive to hire.  Potential workers agree.  And as John McCain learned in his presidential bid, suggesting we do away with corporate tax-incentives to provide coverage was a loser politically.   Well over 95%  of employers with over 200 workers offer coverage. These employers self-fund as a way around Obamacare, and small employers are self-funding for the same reason, to skirt Obamacare expenses.   So maybe just delaying the mandate for a year was a smart move -  to wait until the political dust settles.
Another factor at play is the conservative media campaign, Americans for Prosperity, backed by $1 billion from the Koch Brothers.  The campaign, now underway,  casts doubt on the health and its employment risks – sticker shock, delayed hiring, dropping of coverage, and reducing of work hours.

 The Koch campaign had seized upon the employer mandate as symbolic of what was wrong with Obamacare.  It was anti-hiring,  anti-growth, and anti-prosperity.  It was a drag on the economy, especially for the young in the retail,  fast-food, and other low-paying trades. 
The Prosperity for America ad campaign  –on TV, the Internet, and print media – is   trumpeting other risks – longer waits for care, fewer doctors to provide the care,  the bungled  and glitch-loaded signing-up process for the exchanges,  the 7- fold increase in health costs for the uninsured “invincibles,” the two to three fold premium  increases for the young insured, and problems involved in sharing “personal health information”  involving  the scandal-riddled IRS.
These risks are no doubt overstated.  But keeping the mandate looks like a losing battle for Obama and the Democrats.  It is  better to fight a more winnable battle on another day.
Tweet:  The Obama decision to delay the employer mandate for a year was a decision not to fight a losing battle.
 Ross Douthat,  “A Hidden Consensus on Health Care,“ and Jeremy Peters, “Conservatives ‘ Aggressive Ad Campaign Seeks to Cast Doubt on Health Law, “ both from July 7, 2013 New York Times.

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