Obamacare is a boon to the U.S. economy, President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser said in a speech aimed at changing the tone of debate over the Affordable Care Act’s effects, though he offered little direct evidence.
By expanding insurance coverage, providing subsidies for premiums and helping slow the growth of health-care costs, the president’s signature legislative achievement has put money in Americans’ pockets, Jason Furman said Thursday.
Liberals should make an aggressive argument for the law’s economic benefits, said Furman, the chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, speaking at the Center for American Progress.
“We can do a whole lot better than, ‘our policies didn’t hurt the economy while doing all these great things,’” Furman said. “In fact, they actively helped the economy, and they did it not while doing all these great things, but because of what they did in terms of coverage, in terms of cost and in terms of quality.”
Furman’s argument for the health-care law’s economic benefits boiled down to four main points:
* Healthier workers are more productive workers––and by expanding coverage, Americans will be healthier, Furman said. He depicted this as a future benefit of the law, and provided no evidence that the health of the U.S. workforce has already improved since the law’s coverage expansions in 2014.
* Workers who are freed to change jobs because they no longer have to worry about retaining health insurance, a phenomenon called “job-lock,” will have higher lifetime earnings. Furman provided no evidence that job-lock has been reduced under the Affordable Care Act, again depicting this as a future benefit.
* Expanded insurance coverage and tax credits provided to middle- and low-income Americans to reduce their insurance premiums have acted as something of an economic stimulus, both increasing demand for health services and freeing up cash to spend on things other than health care. Furman said there is direct evidence of this effect, though it is complicated.
Employment in the health-care industry accelerated in 2014, corresponding with the Affordable Care Act’s expansions of coverage. Health-care job growth was greater in states that reduced their uninsured populations the most, implying that the employment increase is linked to insurance coverage. Furman said about 130,000 health-care jobs were created nationwide, thanks to the law.
* Finally, Furman credited the Affordable Care Act with helping to reduce the growth of U.S. health-care spending, a claim the Obama administration has made before. Spending grew 3.8 percent in 2009, the year before the law was passed––2.5 percentage points slower than in 2007––and growth has remained low ever since.
The Altarum Institute, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, Michigan that researches health issues, has found that states that expanded Medicaid, the program for low-income people, didn’t see greater gains in health-care employment last year compared with states that chose not to expand.