ACA’s impact on jobs ignites debate

In the midst of a debate about Obamacare’s impact on the U.S. economy, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) faculty say that it’s important to focus not only on the potential economic impact of the health reform law but also on its much-needed emphasis on lower costs and greater efficiency in the health care system.

Obamacare’s economic impact became a hot topic after a Congressional Budget Office analysis released February 4, 2014 found that more than two million Americans who would otherwise rely on a job for health insurance will either quit working or reduce their hours because of new health benefits available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

David Cutler, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, said in a February 8 New York Times article that while it’s true that a slowdown in the health care sector can hurt the economy in a recession, it still wouldn’t have made sense to keep the old, “clearly bloated” health care system and “make that sector stay bloated.”

Katherine Baicker, professor of health economics, told the Times that it’s a mistake to focus on the pain caused to workers in the health care industry rather than the benefits to everyone else. “If you could get [health care] with fewer resources, that would be better for everyone,” she said.

In a February 5 Washington Post article on the ACA’s impact on employment, Baicker said that health insurance subsidies available through the new law for anyone earning less than 400 percent of the poverty line—about $45,000 for an individual—“may create a disincentive to find a job.” On the other hand, she added, “if health insurance makes people healthier, it might give them extra resources that could increase their ability to hold or search for a job.” She was also quoted on the topic February 4 on American Public Media’s Marketplace.

Listen to an HSPH podcast with Katherine Baicker

Read the New York Times article

Read the Washington Post article

Listen to Baicker on American Public Media’s Marketplace