Tonawanda News

May 29, 2013

DUVALL: Obamacare isn't perfect -- but what is?

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The other day I was talking with a friend of mine who I would characterize as a fairly moderate, not-very-political person. She was expressing doubts about Obamacare based on her experience with it at her job.

Her main complaint — one I’ve heard from others before — is the mandate for employers to provide health insurance to all full-time workers will force companies to rely more on part-time workers to avoid the added cost.

Her place of employment relies heavily on young people, generally college students. During the school year they’re part time but in the summer many are traditionally bumped up to a full work week. This summer, her bosses were given a mandate from their corporate superiors to keep all part-time workers below 30 hours and instead rely on the senior employees who are already enrolled in the company’s health insurance to make up the difference.

It’s certainly one of the law’s unintended consequence. Corporations, by nature, act in a way that maximizes profits while minimizing expenses. It’s cheaper to pay a few hours of overtime to a third of the workforce than it is to pay for health insurance for nearly all of it.

The end result is most of her young coworkers don’t get their own insurance — though for traditional college students, they’re now able to remain on their parents’ plans until well after they would graduate at age 21 — and if their parents can’t afford it there are government subsidies available that make it affordable. 

And everyone who does get health insurance is miserable because they’re working all the time.

It’s understandable why someone’s personal interaction with a sweeping piece of federal legislation is an easy way to judge its merits. Tell someone in the 10th hour at the office for the fifth straight day about the nuances of health care policy and you’re likely to get a stapler thrown at your head.

Partly, Obamacare is a victim of the expectations game. For generations, the left has romanticized policy prescriptions that would bring universal or near-universal coverage for all Americans. Now that the day has arrived we don’t generally see the benefits of someone with a sinus infection getting a prescription for antibiotics. But all the negative interactions with Obamacare like my friend’s full time/part time problem — not to mention all the negative news coverage of its implementation — are amplified. The aggregate effect is the larger reality is obscured. 

We really are a much better country for allowing all our citizens access to a doctor’s care.

Also, there’s the perception that Obamacare should work perfectly from the word “go.” For any piece of legislation of Obamacare’s size and scope this is impossible. Consider, for example, Social Security and Medicare. They are two large federal entitlement programs that enjoy near universal support from seniors who rely on them. Social Security was instituted in the 1930s by FDR’s New Deal; Medicare was a product of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the 1960s. We’re still very much “fixing” both of them today. There is vigorous debate about how to best do that but does anyone seriously think they need to be repealed?

Were there more efficient ways to broaden the number of people who have health insurance in America? Almost certainly. Alas, this is the one our political system produced and lawmakers should be duty-bound to improve on it where we can.

Of course, the contentious process by which it was created has made it impossible. There are some tweaks that both sides agree would improve the law’s implementation. Some Republicans in the House of Representatives refuse to take up those measures because anything short of a full repeal isn’t good enough.

Obamacare isn’t perfect — but what government program is?

Some genuine cooperation between the parties to improve it could set an example for the private sector and maybe then companies wouldn’t be so skittish about hiring for fear of it costing too much money to contribute toward a new worker’s health insurance.

The lack of cooperation in Congress is filtering down through the ranks to the private sector and — eventually — to individual workers who bear the brunt of frustrating employer policies meant to mitigate the dysfunction in Washington.

I fully understand the frustration people feel when government makes life more difficult. Unfortunately from the policy side, how difficult the problem is shouldn’t result in a refusal to offer solutions.

And when only one side is offering any solutions at all it makes things that much tougher.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.