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LAMBRO: The coming employment retrenchment

Obamacare’s likely legacy will be fewer jobs and paid hours

- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2013

The White House and its liberal allies in the news media have launched an all-out campaign to peddle Obamacare to an understandably doubting public.

While just about every poll in the country is telling the administration that Americans care more about finding a job and getting a weak economy back on track, President Obama is out promoting his signature social welfare law: the government's de facto takeover of the nation's health care system.

A front-page article Wednesday in The New York Times, one of Mr. Obama's staunchest political allies, trumpets the administration's line that the Affordable Care Act will cost New Yorkers a lot less than they thought. Of course, there is no way anyone can predict that for certain, because all the pieces haven't been completed, despite a looming October deadline for a national system of health insurance exchanges that is nowhere near its 50-state goal.

On Thursday, The Washington Post ran a front-page sales pitch that said the White House has put together a political team from its 2008 and 2012 campaigns to "persuade young and minority voters" to sign up for his government health care plan.

The person in charge of this initiative, working out of the White House, was Mr. Obama's campaign director of public opinion research and polling. And you thought health care professionals were in charge of Obamacare?

But let's not mince words. Obamacare is in trouble and facing a minefield of postponements, delays, setbacks and a growing list of implementation failures. To make it work financially, millions of uninsured must sign up for medical coverage, especially younger, healthier people, and that is very much in doubt right now.

Obamacare's long-term nursing plan for the elderly has been repealed after the administration concluded that it is financially unworkable. About half the states have decided against creating their own health insurance exchanges, instead letting the federal government run the exchange program, which is a central pillar of the system. The administration has just announced that it is delaying the employer health insurance mandate until 2015, a critical component in the law's finances.

Right after the administration made its surprising not-ready-for-prime-time announcement, the Department of Health and Human Services released a video saying Obamacare was "on schedule." Sure.

The Heritage Foundation, one of Obamacare's chief critics, notes a Government Accountability Office report released last month that said the failure to complete the federal exchange system and the other missed deadlines "suggest a potential for challenges going forward."

Rep. Kevin Brady, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, ticks off some of the implementing items that are undone: income verification, postponed; the data hub, behind schedule; employer insurance verification, delayed.

Democrats have been unusually blunt in their criticism of the administration's incompetence. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the Finance Committee chairman who helped write the law, now says it is heading toward "a train wreck."

House Republicans, pointing to the employer mandate delay, passed legislation Wednesday to do just that, and to postpone the insurance mandate on individuals for one year, too.

Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and Ways and Means Committee chairman, lashed out at an administration that "thinks only businesses should be exempt from the pain inflicted by Obamacare. How is that fair? Families and individuals already are struggling in this Obama economy. They are paying more for gas and more for food, and wages aren't keeping up with the ever-increasing costs of everyday life. Don't these hardworking Americans deserve the same relief?"

A strong point. With so many Americans out of work, how can anyone justify forcing people to buy insurance they do not want or that will wreak havoc with their limited budgets?

The individual mandate will become effective next year. By 2016, anyone who isn't insured will be fined up to $695.

As the deadline for Obamacare draws near, more and more businesses with at least 50 employees are taking steps to avoid its mandates. Wegmans grocery chain, for example, is curbing health care coverage for part-time workers, throwing them instead into the government's exchanges.

Businesses are required by law to offer health insurance to employees who put in 30 hours or more a week, though many will reduce their workers' hours to dodge the costs.

"Wegmans is one of thousands of employers likely to make the same decision," says health care analyst Grace-Marie Turner at the Galen Institute, a think tank.

A growing chorus of economists points to the perverse outcome that Obamacare will spawn throughout our economy. Small businesses will reduce their workforces below the 50-employee level or cut part-time hours to escape the mandate altogether.

Businesses large and small, especially those that are struggling to survive in the anemic Obama economy, will begin to scale back their workforces, finding ways to boost output with fewer workers to reduce health care costs.

In the fifth year of Mr. Obama's presidency, unemployment is still skirting 8 percent nationally. "It is now four years from the recovery's start, and the number of jobs is still 2.2 million below the pre-recession peak," says economist Robert J. Samuelson. "Since World War II, this has never happened."

Mr. Obama's prescription in the midst of a persistently high jobless rate and record long-term unemployment: impose costly overhead mandates on employers across the board.

"There is an unambiguous incentive now for employers to stop providing health insurance, prepare to pay the penalty, and send their employees to the exchanges instead where they can get much more heavily subsidized coverage," economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin said Monday at a Capitol Hill health care forum.

This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a survey that found half of small businesses polled will cut numbers of full-time employees by lowering their hours worked or replace them with part-timers. Seventy-one percent said Obamacare will make it harder to hire more workers.

If Mr. Obama's mandates are not repealed, this will be his long-term legacy.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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