As the Expense of ObamaCare Sets In, Companies Cut Health Benefits
By Sally C. Pipes
Implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues this fall and winter, and employees of shipping giant United Parcel Service recently got an unexpected delivery. The company announced that it would stop offering health coverage to the spouses of 15,000 workers.
UPS’s workers and their families can thank ObamaCare for this special delivery. And UPS isn’t alone. American businesses are discovering that the president’s signature law will raise health costs for them and their employees in short order.
In a memo explaining the decision to employees, UPS stated that increasing medical costs “combined with the costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, have made it increasingly difficult to continue providing the same level of health care benefits to our employees at an affordable cost.”
One day before UPS’s big announcement, the University of Virginia announced that it would cut benefits for spouses who have access to health care through jobs of their own. The rationale was similar. Delta Airlines recently revealed that ObamaCare will increase its direct health costs by $38 million next year. After taking into account the indirect costs of the law, the company is looking at a 2014 health bill that’s $100 million higher.
Increasingly, large employers who aren’t dropping spousal health benefits are requiring their employees to pay monthly surcharges in the neighborhood of $100 per spouse. Many small businesses are dropping family coverage altogether because they expect that ObamaCare’s new tax on insurers will be passed on to them in the form of higher premiums. One Colorado-based business received notice from its insurer that the tax would increase premiums more than 20 percent.
The story is similar in Massachusetts. One new report concludes that over 45,000 small businesses in the Bay State will see premium increases in excess of 30 percent. In all, more than 60 percent of firms in the state will see their premiums go up.
Last month in California, the largest insurer for small businesses, Anthem, declared that it would not participate in the state’s small-business health insurance “marketplace,” Covered California. Only two years ago, Anthem covered one-third of small businesses in California. Anthem’s exit represents one less choice for consumers—and a sign that competition may not be as robust in the exchanges as the Obama Administration promised.
Small businesses are responding to these higher premiums by trimming their labor costs in other ways. That’s not good news for workers. Seventy-four percent of small employers plan to have fewer staff because of ObamaCare, according to a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey. Twenty-seven percent are looking to cut full-time employees’ hours, 24 percent to reduce hiring, and 23 percent to replace full-time with part-time employees.
One in four small companies say that ObamaCare was the single biggest reason not to hire new workers. For almost half, it’s the biggest business challenge they face. These findings are consistent with a recent Gallup Poll showing that 41 percent of small businesses have already stopped hiring because of ObamaCare. Another 19 percent intend to make job cuts because of the law.
All this tumult in the labor market is fueled by more than the increase in premiums engendered by ObamaCare. The law effectively encourages companies to cut full-time jobs. ObamaCare requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide health insurance to all who are on the job for 30 or more hours per week. The law originally called for this “employer mandate” to take effect in 2014, but the Administration decided in July to delay enforcement of the mandate until 2015.
Employers are responding by doing just enough to avoid ObamaCare’s dictates. Administrators at Youngstown State University in Ohio recently told adjunct instructors, “[Y]ou cannot go beyond twenty-nine work hours a week….If you exceed the maximum hours, YSU will not employ you the following year.” A week prior the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh made a similar announcement.
Hundreds of employees at Wendy’s franchises have seen their hours reduced for the same reason. And part-time employees of Trader Joe’s, which has eight locations in the Portland area, are losing their company-sponsored health insurance. Trader Joe’s has offered health and dental coverage for years, but now part-time workers are being directed to the state health insurance exchanges.
Meanwhile, companies with fewer than 50 employees are thinking twice about expanding—and thus being ensnared by ObamaCare’s requirement that they provide health insurance. The cost of each additional employee could be staggering. A firm with 51 employees that declined to provide health coverage would face $42,000 in new taxes every year—and an additional $2,000 tax for with each new hire. Providing coverage, of course, would be even more expensive.
As private firms large and small grapple with ObamaCare-fueled cost increases, one large employer—the federal government—has been quietly exempting itself from portions of the law. Top congressional staffers like their current benefits under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP), wherein the government pays up to 75 percent of the premiums. But the law requires those who work in lawmakers’ personal offices to enter the exchanges. And in many cases, staffers make too much to qualify for health insurance subsidies through the exchanges. So they’d be facing a hefty cut in their compensation.
Fearing a mass exodus of congressional staffers from Capitol Hill, the Obama Administration fudged the law to permit lawmakers’ employees to receive special taxpayer-funded subsidies of $4,900 per person and $10,000 per family. Yet only three months ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) claimed that Congress wouldn’t make exceptions for itself.
President Obama no doubt knows that these congressional favors won’t go over well with ordinary Americans. So he’s called on his most popular deputy—former President Bill Clinton—to try to sell the law to the public once again. But unless the former president can lower employer health costs with little more than the power of his words, his sales pitch will likely fall flat.
Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Taube Fellow in Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco. She is a guest contributor for Cascade Policy Institute. A version of this article was originally published byForbes.