Doug and Mary Blair wait for an appointment at Breathitt County Family Health Center in Jackson, Ky, Jan. 21, 2014.
Luke Sharrett/Getty

The new Obamacare talking point


Republican lawmakers solidified their latest anti-Obamacare talking point this weekend: the health care law discourages people from working and that’s a bad thing. 

“Anything that discourages work – and that’s essentially what the CBO found, that this discourages some people from working, not a good thing at a time when the economy’s still struggling,” Rep. Tom Cole said this Sunday on ABC This Week. 

In the GOP’s initial reaction to the Congressional Budget Office report out last week, the party gleefully pointed to the report as a sign that Obamacare was handing out 2 million “pink slips.” In reality, the report found that the law will contribute to a reduction equivalent to 2 million full-time workers by 2017 because many employees will be elgible for subsidized healthcare, allowing them to stop working full-time. 

So with the pink-slips talking point out the window, the party shifted to one of their old favorites: another Obama policy that encourages people to be lazy rather than work. It’s a slight shift from Rep. Paul Ryan’s complaint that the law created a “poverty trap.”

“I guess I understand ‘better off’ in the context of healthcare. But ‘better off’ in inducing a person not to work who is on the low-income scale, not to get on the ladder of life, to begin working, getting the dignity of work, getting more opportunities, rising their income, joining the middle class, this means fewer people will do that,” he said in a hearing Wednesday. 

Sen. Roy Blunt echoed Cole’s updated version of the talking point Sunday.  

I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea,” Blunt said on Fox News Sunday. “Why would we want to do that? Why would we think that was a good thing? How does that allow people to prepare for the time when they don’t work?”

Democrat Sen. Ben Cardin argued on the same program that this is giving workers the freedom to escape “job lock.” 

“A significant number of these people are in job lock,” he said. “They’re in the employment solely because that’s their only option to get health benefits. Now, individuals have other options.”

“It shouldn’t be because you’re locked into a job because of health benefits,” he added. 

If that “job lock” response sounds similar, that might be because Republicans used it while praising a McCain-backed health plan a few years ago. 

Back in 2008, the Heritage Foundation praised that plan for helping to fight “job lock.” 

Today, leaving a job or changing jobs means leav­ing behind the health insurance provided at the place of work. Individuals who wish to take a better job, change careers, or leave the workforce to raise a family or to retire early take substantial risks. They may find themselves going without coverage, pur­chasing non-group insurance with substantial tax penalties, or giving up a well-developed relation­ship with a physician or medical specialist. This health insurance obstacle to labor mobility is some­times called “job lock.”

When he was the party’s presidential candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney pointed to the freedom to buy health insurance beyond the limitations of employer-subsidized care as a part of the Affordable Care Act he liked and wanted to keep. “I also want individuals to be able to buy insurance, health insurance, on their own as opposed to only being able to get it on a tax advantage basis through their company,” he said. 

But for today’s Republican party, the CBO report has been grasped upon as another opportunity to blast the president’s much-maligned health reform law. Sen. Rob Portman took the argument beyond the his colleagues’ complaints of “fewer people wanting to work” and back into another chunk of well-worn talking point territory: it’s a job killer. 

“Many employers are not hiring people because of Obamacare, 70% in some of the surveys of small businesses are saying that Obamacare is already harming its ability to hire people,” he said on Sunday’s Meet the Press, before saying that the law would discourage small businesses to grow beyond 50 employees, for fear of the regulations that kick in at that point, and perhaps of the part-time workweek. 

But the CBO report that warns of the workers leaving the labor force also debunks that argument that the Affordable Care Act has and will cause employers to shift from full-time workers to part-time to avoid health insurance costs.

“In CBO’s judgment, there is no compelling evidence that part-time employment has increased as a result of the ACA,” the report read. 

North Carolina

The new Obamacare talking point