WASHINGTON -- The idea that Obamacare could give people more freedom sure struck a nerve with those who hate the health care reform law, and apparently hate that people could choose to work less because of it. (Warning: some of them used strong language.)
There's a lot these folks seem to be missing about why it could be good for the country if people chose to forego working hours equivalent to about 2.5 million jobs due to Obamacare, as the Congressional Budget Office estimated could happen 10 years from now in a report released Tuesday. It appears that at the heart of these complaints lies the belief that a large number of Americans will simply up and quit their jobs, thereby raising unemployment and forcing others to pay for their health care, and adding to the federal deficit.
But in a hearing Wednesday, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf explained how that is not so: His office's report, he noted, actually says that Obamacare produces a net increase in employment, and cuts the deficit.
As for the idea that millions of new shirkers would join Mitt Romney's infamous 47 percent, well, the people who might work less thanks to Obamacare would actually be doing things most Americans praise. Many would be moms and dads working fewer hours to spend time with their kids. There would be older, sicker Americans who only work now because it's the only way they can get health care. People with multiple jobs could cut that number to one. And many people would be able to take advantage of the new health-care safety net to start their own businesses -- 1.5 million according to one estimate from the Urban Institute.
"There is a critical difference between people who would like to work and can’t find a job, or have a job that is lost for reasons beyond their control, and people who choose not to work," Elmendorf said.
"If someone comes up to you and says, 'Well, the boss said I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay me,' that person feels bad about that and we sympathize with them for having lost their job," he continued. "If someone comes to you and says, 'I’ve decided to retire,' or 'I’ve decided to stay home and spend more time with my family,' or 'I’ve decided to spend more time doing my hobby' –- they don’t feel bad about it, they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize, we say congratulations. And we don’t say they’ve lost their job, we say they’ve chosen to leave their job."
Elmendorf also explained that while having health care options would encourage some people to seek coverage outside their employer, it hardly means that most people would stop working altogether, since most people need a job for more than just health insurance.
"It's not that they have no incentive to work, it's that they have smaller incentive to work," he said.
And despite the current freak-out over Obamacare giving people more choices, conservatives in fact used to laud the idea of separating health insurance from work. A Heritage Foundation report on similar provisions in Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) health care proposals during his 2008 presidential campaign called the link between employers and health insurance "job lock," and said breaking it would give "more power to families."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.