Obamacare and Family Values: Parents Get to Stay Home With Children

Dean Baker

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was pushed primarily as a way to extend health insurance coverage. This was and is an important goal.

However another important aspect of the ACA is its impact on the labor market. The vast majority of people who are below Medicare age get their insurance through their job. This meant that tens of millions of people felt tied to a job because this was the only way they could get insurance for themselves and their families.

A key feature of Obamacare is that by allowing people to get insurance through the exchanges, workers would no longer feel tied to their jobs in the same way. Workers that wanted to look for jobs that may be a better fit, or wanted to try to start their own business, or just hated their boss, could now take this step without worrying about losing insurance for themselves and their families.

Access to insurance on the exchanges could also mean that many workers who would rather work part-time would have this option. Part-time work could now be an option if they would otherwise make enough money to make ends meet, since they could count on getting affordable insurance through the exchanges.

It appears that many workers are in fact taking exactly this option. Helene Jorgensen and I analyzed the data from the first six months of 2014 and found a large increase in the number of young workers with children who were working part-time by choice. While voluntary part-time employment overall was up by only 2.1 percent compared with 2013, voluntary part-time employment for young parents was up by 11.3 percent. For parents with three or more children it was up by 15.4 percent.

This certainly looks like Obamacare is making it possible for parents to spend more time with their kids. Before trashing Obamacare became a fundamental religious principle for Republicans, even most Republicans probably would have said that parents spending time with their kids is a good thing.

To ensure that there is no confusion, it is important to realize that these numbers refer tovoluntary part-time employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which sponsors the survey from which the data come, first determines whether people work part-time, defined as less than 35 hours a week. They then ask whether they choose to work part-time or are working part-time because they can’t find full time work.

We are looking at an increase in people choosing to work part-time. The number of workers who are involuntarily working part-time has been falling for the last five years, although it is still well above the pre-recession level, reflecting the continuing weakness of the labor market.

The fact that the labor market remains weak makes the increase in voluntary part-time employment even more important. If these people are leaving full-time jobs that they didn’t want, they are creating openings for workers who need full-time employment to make ends meet. This reshuffling in the labor force is a win-win, as full-time workers opting for part-time work and part-time workers moving into full-time jobs are both improving their situations.

This is the sort of thing that President Obama and the Democrats who pushed the bill through Congress should be touting. Tens of millions of people had been living with the fear that if they lost their jobs, they would also lose their health insurance.

This would be a big deal for most families but especially those in which one or more family members had a serious health condition. Insurers do not like to insure sick people. The ACA changed that. Insurers have to treat everyone the same regardless of their health condition. This is a huge step forward.

Of course there are many grounds for criticizing the ACA. We could have saved hundreds of billions of dollars annually if we got rid of the insurers altogether and instead had a universal Medicare system like Canada. Or we could have at least had the option to buy into a public Medicare-type system, as President Obama had originally proposed.

And we pay drug companies, medical equipment suppliers, and doctors too much. Bringing our payments in line with the rest of the world would also save huge amounts of money. But these and other issues can be fixed through time.

The bottom line is that the ACA has worked far better than we had reason to expect, making a big difference in the lives of tens of millions of people. If it had gone the other way, our television sets would have been taken over by Republican politicians trashing the ACA. So now that it’s actually a big success the Democrats are naturally saying nothing.

Originally posted at CEPR.Net.

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