Going all in for the ‘insurance trap’

"Obamacare"  supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.
“Obamacare” supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
It’s been about a week since a few too many reporters and congressional Republicans misinterpreted a CBO report, but a lingering question continues to draw debate. If the Affordable Care Act will make it easier for Americans to voluntarily leave jobs they don’t want, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
For the left, freeing Americans of the “insurance trap” is a positive development. The progressive line is that those facing “job lock” – folks who want to quit but can’t because their families need the health coverage – deserve more choices. For the right, this policy goal was widely embraced, right up until opposition to “Obamacare” became paramount, at which point many conservatives decided the “insurance trap” and “job lock” aren’t so bad after all.
But consider a real-world example that helps drive the larger policy point home. Sandhya Somashekhar reported over the weekend on a woman named Polly Lower, who felt empowered enough by the ACA to quit her job.
It happened in September, when her boss abruptly changed her job description. She went from doing payroll, which she liked, to working on her boss’s schedule, which she loathed. At another time, she might have had to grit her teeth and accept the new position because she needed the health benefits.
But with the health-care law soon to take effect, she simply resigned – and hasn’t looked back.
“It was wonderful. It was very freeing,” said Lower, 56, of Bourbon, Ind., who is now babysitting her 5-year-old granddaughter full time. With the help of federal subsidies that kicked in Jan. 1, she is paying less than $500 a month for health coverage for herself and her husband.
The Washington Post article went on to note that Lower finds it challenging to adjust to the loss of income, but she nevertheless feels like she made the right choice for her family by walking away from a job she hated.
And while this is obviously just one person, what the CBO projects is that there will be over 2 million Americans who make similar choices in the coming years thanks health care reform.
For the left, this is a feature. For the right, it’s a bug.
Now that the right has switched positions and no longer sees these choices as worthwhile, conservatives have gone all in, voicing increasingly bold opposition to the policy goal they used to support. We heard plenty of this last week, and the push continued on the Sunday shows.
“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 on ABC’s “This Week” about Obamacare.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) made a similar claim on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea,” he said about the health care law. “Why would we want to do that? Why would we think that was a good thing?”
I don’t understand what Roy Blunt doesn’t understand.
Let’s try this again. Imagine there’s a young entrepreneur with a great idea who wants to leave her unsatisfying job and start a new venture, but she can’t because she doesn’t want to lose health care benefits for herself and her family. Now she’ll be able to pursue this new venture without giving up medical coverage. “Why would we want to do that?” Perhaps because the United States has traditionally seen value in encouraging entrepreneurship.
Or imagine there’s an older factory worker who’s saved up and is ready to retire, but he’s not quite eligible for Medicare and doesn’t want to go uninsured. The health care law will allow him to leave the workplace, giving up his job to someone else.
“Why would we think that was a good thing?” Why wouldn’t we?