The Federal Government shut down Tuesday after House Republicans attached a provision to the continuing resolution that would put off the Affordable Care Act for one year. The continuing resolution – America's current stand-in for an approved budget – stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate as they refused to fold to Republican demands. All this hoopla has The Daily Beacon asking questions: What is 'Obamacare,' and why do conservatives oppose it? Why do liberals support it? Most importantly, how will it affect college students like us? Staff columnists Evan Ford and Adam Prosise weighed in.
The Affordable Care Act – that sounds nice. After all, no one wants to live in a country where people who cannot afford medical treatment are dying in the streets.
Healthcare is expensive too. Since 1965 we've seen exponential increases in the cost of medical care. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011 the average American spent $8,680 on medical care. No one disputes that our healthcare system is in desperate need of reform. Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act – termed "Obamacare" – does little to address the core problems afflicting medical care in the United States.
One of the few things the legislation does that actually benefits most of us, particularly college students, is that it allows us to remain on our parents' coverage until we turn 26. It's also commendable that the law prevents insurers from denying coverage for preexisting conditions.
But as far as positives go, it drops off quickly from there.
Thanks to legislation from the mid-20th century, American medical care is uniquely tied to employers. Rather than addressing the efficiency of employee-employer healthcare coverage – as most economists advocate – the ACA compounds the problems by pilling on new regulation and legislation indiscriminately thrown together. The act's ad hoc nature undermines its own goal.
Consider the whole purpose of the Affordable Care Act, which in the President's own words was to enable all Americans to "finally be able to afford quality health insurance." The noble goal of making healthcare affordable for all Americans is left unmet.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2022 there will still be 30 million Americans without insurance. Here is the kicker: every time the CBO has visited this issue, the number of uninsured Americans has crept up by a couple million.
So despite this sweeping "reform," tens of millions of Americans will still be without health insurance.
Many of you will recall what President Obama touted while pitching his signature legislation: "If you like your current healthcare coverage, you can keep it."
Despite promises to the contrary, the cost of health insurance is skyrocketing in 45 of the 50 states. Specifically, a study by the Manhattan Institute points to premiums rising 99 percent for men and 55 to 60 percent for women. It further illustrates that in North Carolina, young men can expect a 305 percent increase in the price of their premiums, while women in Nebraska can count on paying 237 percent more for their healthcare. These increases makes many individuals' current healthcare plans too expensive.
Only serious spin makes those numbers sound "affordable."
Even if you can afford to keep your insurance, your insurer may be nowhere to be found. In California, Aetna and UnitedHealth have pulled out of the market, leaving 58,000 people to shop for other plans. California is one of ten states which have lost major insurers. Keep your current plan? Depends on where you live.
To make matters worse, this "reform" is a wrench thrown into the labor market – resulting in huge behavioral distortions. This is due to the unique relationship healthcare and employment have in the United States. The Employer Mandate – a piece of the law that requires all businesses with 50 or more employees to provide comprehensive healthcare coverage or face IRS penalties – has been delayed until next year. Opponents of Obamacare allege this is to ensure the American people won't face the true fallout of the employer mandate until after the 2014 elections. Nonetheless, this aspect of ACA is causing alarming behavioral changes.
Tens of thousands of American workers have seen their working hours reduced to under 30 hours a week, making them part-time workers so employers are not required to provide health insurance. Before you condemn businesses and entrepreneurs, remember that the margins they operate on are often so slim that the increased costs Obamacare tacks on to their bottom line leaves them little choice, aside from laying off workers or going out of business.
Because low wage workers are at the greatest risk for their hours being reduced, this law is actually hurting the people it intends to help. Combine the reduction in hours with the rising cost of premiums, and one begins to wonder if the ACA is intentionally designed to funnel us into a single-payer system, which would give universal control of healthcare over to the federal government.
The ACA also imposes over 20 new taxes on individuals and businesses. Among these is the medical device manufacturing tax, which imposes a 2.3 percent tax on all medical devices. Perhaps I'm missing something, but how does taxing tongue depressors and heart catheters make healthcare more affordable?
Supporters say that given time, the American public will come to like Obamacare, just as they like Medicare, social security, and other social welfare programs. Give stuff away for "free" and the recipients will like it, alright. But somebody has to pay for it.
Americans without the necessary means should have access to healthcare, but we cannot shackle the economy to the hollow reforms of Obamacare. We need to solve the problem; despite the best intentions, Obamacare is just another obstacle to a true solution.
Adam Prosise is a senior in economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
View Evan Ford's Column in support of the Affortable Care Act here.