Last week, headlines read: "Devastating News for Obamacare: Over Two Million Workers Will Lose Jobs," and Obamacare will push two million workers out of labor market." Contrary to these fear-inducing, sensationalized storylines, instead of losing jobs by the millions, Americans, for the first time, will enjoy the freedom and flexibility of leaving the workforce voluntarily. The CBO report that incited critics of the healthcare law actually makes it clear that the decline in workforce participation is not due to employers cutting jobs, but rather to workers choosing to work less.
The CBO report finds that the Affordable Care Act markedly increases the number of Americans with health insurance. The law gives individuals and their families the ability to access healthcare beyond the restrictions of employer-sponsored coverage. This coverage is portable and affordable, meaning that workers now have the freedom to choose -- they're free to take a risk and start a small business, free to take two years out of the workforce and get that college degree they never got a chance to finish, free to simply scale back their hours and spend more time at home with the kids.
Earlier this week, we met a mother of five from Philadelphia who, for years, had worked both a full-time job and a second, part-time job just so she could have health benefits. The 60+ hour work weeks exacted a heavy toll on her, keeping her away from her young children, and leaving her with the anguish of choosing between the health care she needed and seeing her children grow up. Frustrated and exhausted, she chose her family, and left the part-time job, knowing that it would mean gambling with her health. That was in 2012 -- she's been uninsured ever since. On March 1st, her new Marketplace health coverage will kick in and she'll have the peace of mind that comes with being covered.
On a personal level, my dad, at the age of 67, who has been at the same job for over 30 years, couldn't even think about retirement. Why? His job has excellent health benefits for both him and my mom. My mother at the age of 62 is three years away from gaining Medicare coverage. Faced with my mom's health conditions, and knowing that she'd no longer be covered if he retired, he stayed on. Going without was not an option, so neither was retirement. Now, he can dream a little. Insurance companies can no longer deny her coverage due to a pre-existing condition or charge her exorbitant rates that are impossible to afford. My dad could choose to retire -- to be one of those 2 million workers voluntarily leaving the workforce, freeing up a good job for someone who badly needs it.
The real problem the critics of the healthcare law face is that the ACA is beginning to work. As more Americans experience the benefits of the law, and breathe easier with their first insurance card, these opponents can only arouse fear. Every day, we, at the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, are helping families and individuals get the coverage they need, and educating the public on the benefits of the new law. We see the excitement in their eyes and hear the relief in their voices as they find health insurance that's quality, affordable, and comprehensive.
Sensational, the-sky-is-falling headlines are good for ratings, but rarely reflect the on-the-ground reality. That reality is that the Affordable Care Act is working, creating opportunities for families and changing lives for the better.