The high price of Obamacare

It's going to shock the president's young supporters

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Confidence in President Barack Obama's stewardship of the economy has declined among young adults, according to polls conducted in late April.

With good reason. The national unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in April, down from 7.7 percent last November, but 11.1 percent for Americans aged 18 to 29.

The unemployment rate fell because more stopped looking for jobs. The labor force participation rate in April was the lowest since 1979.

The youth unemployment rate would have been 16.1 percent if discouraged workers were counted, said Evan Feinberg, president of Generation Opportunity.

Less than two thirds of the 7.7 million private sector jobs lost during the recession have been replaced -- mostly by jobs which aren't as good. About 60 percent of the jobs lost -- but only 27 percent of jobs added -- have been in mid-wage occupations, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Real (inflation adjusted) average hourly earnings for private sector workers were lower in April than when President Obama took office. Almost 20 percent of the jobs created were part-time. The average work week for employees on private nonfarm payrolls fell 12 minutes to 34.4 hours.

Small business owners let more people go last year than they hired. In a Gallup poll in January, 61 percent said worries about health care costs were one reason why.

"Since Obamacare regulations do not apply until a business has 50 or more employees, smaller businesses are not hiring the 50th employee or laying off to get to 49," according to Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La, a physician.

Or replacing full time workers with part-timers.

"Retailers are cutting worker hours at a rate not seen in more than three decades -- a sudden shift that can only be explained by the onset of Obamacare's employer mandates," Investors Business Daily said May 3.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated a loss of 800,000 jobs over 10 years. The CBO estimate doesn't include the impact on employment of the additional taxes imposed by Obamacare, so job losses likely will exceed 1 million, according to Duke University Prof. Chris Conover, who teaches health policy.

Companies can reduce costs about 40 percent if they cancel their health insurance plans, because the fines Obamacare imposes for not providing health insurance are much less than what most spend for health insurance, estimates Lockton, a firm that advises mid-sized companies on health plans.

Fortune 100 companies could save nearly $500 billion by dumping their health plans, the House Ways & Means Committee estimated. About 30 percent of private sector firms are likely to drop their health insurance plans, estimated McKinsey & Co.

Employees dumped onto health care exchanges would have to pay 79 percent to 125 percent more, even after receiving federal subsidies, Lockton calculates. Most employer plans cover 80 percent or more of health costs, but subsidies will cover 70 percent or less for most who buy insurance from exchanges.

The CBO estimated the cost of Obamacare insurance subsidies for the years 2012-2021 at $1.4 trillion (although it also estimated that repealing Obamacare would increase the federal deficit by $210 billion over that period). But the CBO assumed few companies would drop their insurance plans -- ridiculous in view of the incentives to do just that. The actuary for Medicare and Medicaid estimates 14 million workers will lose their private health insurance. If so, costs could be 46 percent higher.

As unions learn they're likely to lose health insurance, they may experience buyers' remorse. "It would be ironic indeed if many of the private sector unions who supported Obamacare had actually signed their own death warrant," said Newsweek writer Megan McArdle. "But it seems this may be what has happened."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to dump retired city workers onto exchanges. Other cash-strapped cities may follow suit. So government unions are in for nasty surprises, too.

Obamacare's burdens fall most heavily on healthy young people, who face average premium increases of 189 percent if they buy individual policies, 145 percent if they buy insurance as part of small groups, according to the Republican staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a report titled "The Price of Obamacare's Broken Promises."

President Obama was re-elected in part because he won the votes of 18- to 29-year-olds by 60 percent to 36 percent. Young adults disproportionately are among those euphemistically described as "low information" voters. By January, far fewer will be "low information" about what Obamacare has in store for them. If I were a Democrat, that would keep me up nights.

jackkelly

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).


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