Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on Feb. 5, 2015 in Miami, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

When the ACA ends ‘job lock,’ it’s a feature, not a bug

The headline in The Hill practically seemed designed to appear in Republican attack ads: “CBO projects 2 million fewer jobs under ObamaCare.” But looking past the headline, the truth is far less controversial. In fact, it’s fair to say this is an Affordable Care Act success story.
ObamaCare is expected to cost the U.S. workforce a total of 2 million jobs over the next decade, Congress’s nonpartisan scorekeeper said Monday.
The total workforce will shrink by just under 1 percent as a result of the new coverage expansions, mandates and changes in tax rates, according to a 22-page report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah.), who has long struggled with the basics of health care reform, quickly issued a statement, claiming the CBO report is proof of how correct Republicans are about the law. “The CBO’s latest report confirms yet another broken promise and negative consequence stemming from Obamacare,” the senator argued.
The problem, of course, is that Hatch’s complaints are completely wrong. The CBO was pointing to a positive consequence of the law, not a “negative” one.
Nearly two years ago, the CBO initially found that, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, in the coming years, many Americans will be able to leave their full-time jobs – by choice – because of the available benefits.
Much of the media interpreted this as evidence of the ACA hurting job creation and causing mass layoffs, but that isn’t what the findings said at all. In fact, this was good news for the reform law, not bad – we’re talking about a feature, not a bug.
One of the purposes of “Obamacare” is to help end something called “job lock.” The phrase describes a dynamic in which many Americans would like to leave their current jobs – to retire, to start a new business, whatever – but can’t because they and their families need the health benefits tied to their current job.
As we discussed the last time the CBO reported on this, there are very likely some 60 years olds out there, for example, who would prefer to retire but can’t because they can’t go without health benefits. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, those folks can go ahead and voluntarily leave the workforce, knowing that it won’t leave them uninsured. Or maybe there’s a parent who wants to stay home with a child, who would ordinarily feel forced to get a job in order to get access to health care, but who can now take advantage of the choices the ACA offer.
For Republicans, the Congressional Budget Office’s findings seem like evidence of the ACA costing the economy 2 million jobs, but that’s not even close to being right. This really isn’t that complicated: we’re talking about Americans who want to voluntarily leave the workforce who’ll now be able to.
Why is that a bad thing? For anyone who understands the substantive details, it’s not.