We pay our presidents for judgment, and President Obama committed a colossal error of judgment in making health-care “reform” a centerpiece of his first term. Ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — and regardless of how the court decides — it’s clear that Obama overreached. His attempt to achieve universal health insurance coverage is a massive feat of social engineering that, by its sweeping nature, weakens the economic recovery and antagonizes millions of Americans.
Let’s review why the ACA (“Obamacare”) is dreadful public policy:
(1) It increases uncertainty and decreases confidence when recovery from the Great Recession requires more confidence and less uncertainty. The ACA isn’t highly popular; the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 44 percent of Americans now view it unfavorably and 37 percent favorably. Given the ACA’s complexities, people can’t know where they’ll get insurance and what it will cost. In 2014, the ACA requires all employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide insurance or pay fines (“the employer mandate”). On the one hand, formal economic studies conclude that most employers now offering insurance will continue to do so; on the other, in direct surveys of firms, 30 percent or more say they might drop insurance and pay fines. Uncovered people must buy insurance (“the individual mandate”) or face penalties, though government will subsidize households with incomes up to four times the poverty level ($92,200 for a family of four in 2012).
(2) The ACA discourages job creation by raising the price of hiring. This is basic economics. If you increase the price of labor, companies will buy less of it. Requiring employers to buy health insurance for some workers makes them more expensive, at least in the short run. Particularly vulnerable are low-skilled workers, notes economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute. Because the employer mandate exempts firms with fewer than 50 workers, there’s a huge incentive for firms to stop at 49, she says.