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Globe Editorial

Claims by House GOP don’t justify repeal of health reform

January 19, 2011

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AS HOUSE Republicans move today to repeal the landmark health reform law, the first reports on its provisions are filtering in. They are all premature — the law doesn’t take full effect until 2014 — but show, perhaps predictably, a mixed bag of successes and at least one initial failure. Yet none of the reports begins to justify the Republican call for repeal, let alone their core claim that the law would “cost’’ 650,000 jobs.

One provision to take effect immediately, the tax credit to help small businesses provide insurance for workers, shows signs of delivering on its promise, commercial insurers report. On the other hand, the law’s plan to have states provide high-risk pools to lower the cost of insurance for people with pre-existing conditions as a temporary bridge to 2014, when insurers must begin covering such customers, has been a bust. So far, very few people have found this coverage affordable, even with subsidies. Meanwhile, no hard data are in yet on one of the most popular provisions, that insurers must cover children under their parents’ policies until they are 26.

But much of the Republican opposition has focused not on any of these actual effects, but on speculation over its long-term impact on employment. The House bill is called “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.’’ Critics of ObamaCare say it will destroy 650,000 jobs, citing the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office as the source.

Actually, what the CBO said was that the law “would reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount — roughly half a percent — primarily by reducing the amount of labor that workers choose to supply.’’ The CBO said that, with health insurance more available, some people might not wait to retire until they become eligible for Medicare at 65. The “half a percent’’ of 131 million US workers does total 650,000, but the CBO projection belies GOP rhetoric about “killing jobs.’’

In truth, all estimates of the law’s effect on the economy are guesswork. By penalizing employers who do not provide insurance to full-time workers, the law might well cause some companies to take on fewer employees. Yet by expanding coverage to more than 30 million Americans, the law will likely give a boost to employment in health industries. Furthermore, the fear of losing health insurance keeps Americans from pursuing new opportunities; entrepreneurs might feel freer to start businesses if they know they can get affordable coverage.

To be sure, there are problems with the bill, and more will probably be exposed as it moves toward full implementation. The risk-pool flop is one, and a provision that ends up requiring companies to file more paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service is probably more trouble than it is worth. Also, Congress should do more to reform the nation’s medical malpractice system. Addressing these shortcomings would be a good use of the House’s time. Passing a repeal that is based on willful misreading of the law’s effect on jobs — and won’t get the time of day in the Democratic Senate — is a waste of time.